The high-profile Taliban attack inside the com pound of the Ministry of Defense in Kabul that killed two and wounded seven, shocking as it is, has raised doubts about the capabilities of security forces to protect even the most vital of security installations. The attack also has been a powerful statement put out by the Taliban and their handlers and benefactors that they have the ability to attack at will anywhere and everywhere and target the most secure places.
Perhaps, the Taliban leadership also wanted to display how they have been able to either infiltrate their militants into the army and police as they are able to recruit suicide bombers from the existing personnel of the security forces. Both of the scenarios are very probable as the facts on the ground and the string of such attacks past and present point to the existence of so-called "sleeper cells" of Taliban fighters inside the country's national security forces that are waiting to strike upon receiving orders.
A few days earlier, in another similar attack involving a suicide bomber with police uniform in a military base in eastern part of the country, nine NATO and Afghan soldiers were killed. In yet another incident this week, the chief of Kandahar police was killed along with a number of his colleagues in another similar attack by a member of security forces. The list would go on. General Zahir Azimi, the Spokesman for the Ministry of Defense has said the government and his ministry will "review" and revise the current army and police selection and recruitment mechanisms and procedures to prevent infiltration of security forces by militants. Another concern is the existence of collaborators with Taliban within the security forces. Many such collaborators have in the past facilitated attacks on the forces and have been able to get away with it without being detected.
However, the overall situation actually is worse than what is reflected in the media or what the government representatives or spokespeople want us to believe. First of all, the extent of infiltration of security forces by anti-government militants is indeed enormous. Secondly, many collaborators are there within the existing personnel of the army and police who are more than willing to extend a helping hand to militant groups which want to carry out attacks and explosions targeting the security forces. Noor Al-Haq Olumi, a former Army General and Member of Parliament has summed up the situation thus: "The enemy has entered every part of the government. They are everywhere, whether it's government institutions or our villages. The enemy has even infiltrated the Afghan Army and police, working there for years and gaining trust, and now they can carry out attacks whenever they want, his year I believe it will be more violent because there will be more attacks like this one today."
The tide of concerns continues rising regarding the readiness of national security forces to defend the country against both internal and external threats as the deadline of 2014 approaches. Such grave security incidents are signs that all is not well with the state of readiness of Afghan forces and there is still a long way to make these forces reliable and self-sufficient. Part of the blame of course lies at the feet of Afghan and international authorities tasked with the selection and recruitment of new trainees into the ranks of the army and police. The rush to increase the numbers of the Afghan National Security Forces in recent years has led to a large vacuum in the quality and commitment of these forces.
In other words, with the government of Afghanistan and the international forces under intense pressure to increase the numbers and get the Afghan National Security Forces ready by 2014, the ensuing focus on quantity has trumped quality among the security forces. This is a fact that even the Ministry of Defense and the ISAF training mission tasked with training the security forces acknowledge in their statements and interviews. The faulty recruitment process to a large extent has lacked focus on proper screening of the new recruits. Whether a new soldier has a shady past, has been a criminal or has collaborated with the Taliban or other militant groups are not considered in the process of recruitment in a hurry to fill the empty ranks and inflate the numbers of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
Another serious problem so far has been the absence of effective counter-intelligence units within the armed forces. The duty of such units is to keep an eye on the members of security forces whether the army and police and identify informers, agents, double and triple agents that might work for Taliban or foreign intelligence agencies and whosoever that tries to create trouble. William Caldwell, the commander of the NATO training mission that works alongside the Ministry of Defense, says the NATO training teams and authorities in the Ministry are focusing on developing such counter-intelligence units inside the army and police.
Where is the Real Problem?
Creation of such counter-intelligence units and review of recruitment mechanisms for the army and police are good news but the main problem sits somewhere else. As the famous saying goes, fish rots from the head and it cannot be any truer in the case of how the government in Kabul is approaching the Taliban and other militant groups. The government's inability to move to occupy the moral and operational high ground against the Taliban and its continued impotency to put up a brave face in front of the militants have all worked to embolden the Taliban and give them a morale boost.
Here I would like to differentiate between the first and the second type of anti-government militants. The first group, far from being ideologically driven, is the groups of rag-tag, down and out twenty and thirty-something men in the villages of Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika or elsewhere who have taken up guns because they have heard there are foreigners in Afghanistan and Jihad would take them to heaven and all of its virgins! These groups are quite easy to defeat with a dose of military and political maneuvers.
But the second group comprising the real threat is the hard-core militants who are actively working with Al-Qaeda and those who get orders and act according to the orders they receive. What has the approach of the government in Kabul been towards both these groups apart from calling them "brothers" and bailing them out of jails? As long as this is the status-quo, more attacks and gloomy news will follow.