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Posted by The Agonist on April 15th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Only five days ago, NATO’s PR spinners were boosting talk of a successful security transition in Afghanistan by saying that there was no sign of a Taliban Spring offensive this year.

Today, the Taliban launched a highly co-ordinated attack on government buildings in Kabul and across the country.

A statement by the Taliban called the attacks the start of their spring offensive, adding: “It is also a message to those foreign commanders who claim that the Taliban have lost their momentum. We have just showed that we are here and we can stage an attack whenever we want.”

A NATO spokesman confirmed that multiple attacks had occurred across Kabul, potentially in as many as seven locations.

As I write fighting continues in Kabul, where it is now night, with RPG rounds and small arms fire being heard by tweeters in the embassy district who are being kept in their offices by their security details. Questions will have to be asked about NATO intelligence being caught so flatfooted.

An ISAF statement has downplayed the attacks, saying they are “largely ineffective” but they succeeded in their purpose: to show that the government and security forces cannot secure even their own highest security zone. The ISAF statement also notes that Afghan forces dealt with the attacks on their own – if you count having ISAF mentoring teams with them. Even so, the Guardian reports that the Afghan police’s response may have been…haphazard.

A high profile Afghan MP called Wazhma Frogh who was caught up in the attacks near the British Embassy gave a scathing verdict of the response of police.

“I was nearly shot in the back as I was walking down the street, not by a terrorist but by the Afghan police who were just shooting at everything,” she said. “They had no idea where they were firing.”

She said the attacks cast doubt on NATO’s “transition” plan that aims to hand over full responsibility for security to the Afghan government by the end of 2014,

“This shows just how ridiculous the transition policy is. I’ve never seen a street battle before, but what I saw today was the fragility of these police officers. It really shows how poor police training has been.”

If the Taliban can follow up these attacks with another summer of escalating violence – as they’ve done every year since 2003 – then any chance the West’s withdrawal can be spun as any kind of victory will evaporate.

Meanwhile, in other “momentum!” news: just four days ago noted mil-blogger and CNAS senior fellow Andrew Exum was taking an Army-run survey at face value and using it to announce that the US Army had not been broken by a decade of counter-productive war. Today, however, the NYT reports on the high suicide rate of US military veterans.

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

…Estimates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury vary widely, but a ballpark figure is that the problems afflict at least one in five veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. One study found that by their third or fourth tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than one-quarter of soldiers had such mental health problems.

Preliminary figures suggest that being a veteran now roughly doubles one’s risk of suicide. For young men ages 17 to 24, being a veteran almost quadruples the risk of suicide, according to a study in The American Journal of Public Health.

If that’s not broken, I don’t know what is.

Vietnam is now one for the ages. After so many years, Afghanistan has finally emerged as a quagmire beholden to no other war. What an achievement! Our moment, Afghanistan included, has proven so extreme, so disastrous, that it’s finally put the unquiet ghost of Vietnam in its grave. And here’s the miracle: it has all happened without anyone in Washington grasping the essence of that now-ancient defeat, or understanding a thing.


Update Journalists on Twitter say they are still hearing RPG explosions and gunfire in Kabul more than 12 hours after the attacks began

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