South Asia: Ten Years After September 11 and Terrorism Is as Strong as Ever

Within Afghanistan, the list of attacks, killed, and wounded during recent months would go on for pages. Pres­i­dent Karzai’s advi­sor, Jan Moham­mad Khan, and the mayor of Kandahar were assassinated. Police stations and military bases were hit by suicide bombers. The downing of an American helicopter by the Taliban killed 30 U.S. SEALs. Hundreds of civilians, NATO and Afghan soldiers, and terrorists were killed.

As the United States withdraws its troops from Afghanistan and after the killing of Osama bin Laden, no one is safe; no area in Pakistan or Afghanistan can be considered stable.

In a show of strength, a Taliban unit with al-Qaeda connections invaded Kabul on September 13 and seized control of a nine-story building under construction just 300 yards from the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters, firing 10 rocket-propelled grenades. An all-day gun battle was required before the terrorists either fled or were killed. Four police and two civilians were killed along with a half-dozen terrorists.

The terrorists probably never heard of the Tet offensive in South Vietnam, in which insurgents showed their ability to penetrate anywhere in Saigon or other supposedly secure areas. The political implications of such acts — saying in this case that the Taliban cannot be defeated and the U.S. and NATO have not won — exceed their strategic value.

This was no isolated attack. On June 29, nine insurgents stormed the Intercontinental Hotel armed with rifles and rocket launchers on the eve of a major Afghan government conference.  They killed at least 12 people and held off NATO and Afghan forces for five hours, until U.S.-launched helicopter airstrikes killed the last insurgents hiding on the roof.

On August 18, Taliban suicide bombers stormed a British compound in an upscale Kabul neighborhood, killing eight people during an eight-hour firefight, as two English-language teachers and their bodyguard hid in a locked panic room. Those killed included five policemen, a municipal worker, and a New Zealand special forces soldier shot in the chest as he tried to free the hostages.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government talks of integrating the Taliban into mainstream politics and power-sharing. Whatever upbeat reports are circulated by the U.S. and other governments, the Taliban has the upper hand. Ten years after September 11, the United States has not defeated the Taliban or even ensured that it cannot return to power in a short period of time. The Taliban cannot beat the NATO forces but they merely need to outwait them.