Taliban attack threatens Afghan stability

Allison JACKSON –
A Taliban attack on top US and Afghan security chiefs inside a highly secure compound in Afghanistan is a major coup for the insurgents that threatens to torpedo peace talks and destabilise the country’s south, analysts say.
A gunman wearing an Afghan security forces uniform opened fire on a group including General Scott Miller — the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan — and powerful Afghan police chief General Abdul Raziq on Thursday as they ended a meeting in the southern city of Kandahar.
Within seconds Raziq, an anti-Taliban strongman and key US ally who was credited with keeping a lid on the insurgency in the south, was dead along with Kandahar’s provincial intelligence chief and an Afghan journalist.
Miller escaped unhurt in the bold attack the militants said had targeted the US general and Raziq, whom they had previously accused of killing thousands of Taliban detainees and had attempted to assassinate dozens of times.
That the Taliban could mount a deadly insider assault on top US and Afghan security chiefs in such a secure location has rattled a country long used to high-profile targeted killings and violence.
It signalled the Taliban could “strike whenever and wherever it wants” and would embolden the insurgents, said Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center.
“This attack is a huge blow to stability,” he added. The Taliban, which controls or contests swathes of the war-torn country, has made significant territorial gains and threatened provincial capitals in recent months as it steps up attacks.
The increased aggression had been seen as an attempt by the Taliban to strengthen its negotiating position in talks with the United States to end the 17-year war.
Taliban representatives have met with US officials at least twice in Qatar in recent months, most recently on October 12 with newly appointed US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, raising hopes for peace.
But analysts said the latest attack may have jeopardised those tentative efforts.
“There will be questions asked whether the Taliban are really serious about peace talks,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on the group.
Afghanistan Analysts Network said the Taliban’s claim that the shooter, who officials said was a member of the wounded provincial governor’s security team, had targeted Miller — something the United States disputes — would complicate the US position.
“It is difficult to imagine how the US government will be able to defend holding talks with an organisation that claims it attempted to kill the US supreme commander in Afghanistan,” AAN said in a report.
Raziq, whose power extended beyond Kandahar to neighbouring provinces in southern Afghanistan, was either “respected or feared” by Afghans, said military analyst Atiqullah Amarkhail.
His death would be demoralising for beleaguered security forces and leave a dangerous power vacuum that would be difficult to fill.
“It will be hard for the government to find someone who could replace him as a powerful force against the Taliban,” Amarkhail said.
Yusufzai said killing Raziq was “one of the Taliban’s biggest achievements in this war”.
“Expect a meltdown in Kandahar,” a foreign diplomat said.
“He was the one guaranteeing security in Kandahar.”
But US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that Raziq’s death would not fundamentally change the security situation in the province. — AFP