Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Surging Violence, Afghan Forces Stand Their Ground

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Surging Violence, Afghan Forces Stand Their Ground

Article excerpt

A recent surge in attacks in the Afghan capital is raising concerns that the new boss of a divided Taliban is lashing out to show who is in control - as well as new worries about growing divisions in the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

Truck bombings and other attacks since Friday have left at least 55 people dead. Amid the rubble and chaos is also the silver-lining claim that Afghanistan's US- and NATO-trained security forces are demonstrating a heightened ability to respond to such attacks and mitigate their impact.

The praise some Afghan officers heaped on their forces' performance in the wake of the recent attacks is echoed to some degree by US commanders on the ground, some regional experts say. For others, the praise is more, than anything, an attempt to put a positive twist on a picture of surging violence.

"The Afghan security forces have suffered record levels of casualties and they continue to be beset by high attrition rates, but in the face of these challenges US commanders say they are impressed with the competence and professionalism of the Afghan forces," says Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center in Washington.

"In the midst of a major Taliban offensive, they've shown themselves to be able to hold ground and defense positions," she says.

For others, any high marks for the security forces' performance are more accurately an attempt by authorities to deflect attention from faltering security.

"The government in Kabul is trying to put the best face possible on the performance of the security forces," says Ted Galen Carpenter, senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington. "But the fact is that, while that performance has been tolerably competent, it's hardly been impressive."

Some Afghan commanders issued kudos for their soldiers and national police over the weekend after Taliban attackers were repelled and prevented from entering the military facilities that appeared to be their targets. The result was that in the Friday attacks, which claimed at least 50 lives, the large majority of victims were either security forces defending the targeted installation or civilians living or traveling nearby.

One American soldier, a Green Beret, was killed in Friday's attacks.

On Monday, a bombing near the civilian entrance to Kabul's airport, apparently targeting a passing convoy of US and other foreign personnel, killed at least five people - four civilians and a police officer.

One point analysts appear to agree on is that, despite the rising challenges Afghanistan's security forces are facing, one thing is certain: They are faring much better than Iraq's US-trained soldiers and police officers.

"One thing that can be said with a high degree of confidence is that [the Afghan forces] have shown more of a competence and cohesion than their Iraqi counterparts," says Ms. …

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