The wave of attacks in Afghanistan yesterday was conducted by the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction that operates from safe havens in neighboring Pakistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
“The intelligence indicates the Haqqanis were behind the attacks that took place,” Panetta said today in a news conference at the Pentagon.
Afghan and NATO forces killed 36 guerrillas to end a wave of attacks in Kabul and three eastern provinces of Afghanistan. While Panetta and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised the role taken by Afghan forces in ending the attacks, the assaults underscored the Taliban’s continued ability to disrupt even neighborhoods adjacent to President Hamid Karzai’s palace.
The purpose “may well have been for the insurgents to remind the U.S., NATO, the Afghans and indeed their own supporters that they’re still in business,” said former British Army Brigadier Ben Barry, a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Just as NATO has been pursuing a strategy of fight and negotiate, it may be that the insurgents are doing the same thing.”
Panetta downplayed the significance of the Taliban’s ability to spring such surprise assaults.
“There were no tactical gains here,” Panetta said. “These are isolated attacks that are done for symbolic purposes, and they have not regained any territory.”
Karzai called in a statement for an investigation into the attacks, which he called an “intelligence failure for us and especially NATO.”
U.S. intelligence found that since March 21, the Taliban have “wanted to make a statement that they were back,” according to Dempsey, who spoke today alongside Panetta. The advance intelligence was “vague” and difficult to act on, he said.
While intelligence indicates the attacks were waged by the Haqqani network, which operates partly out of Pakistan, Dempsey said there was no evidence “at this time” that the assault emanated from that country.
The fighting ended with the killing of the last attacker near the Afghan parliament early today, more than 17 hours after guerrillas began their rifle and rocket assaults on government buildings and foreign embassies and bases.
The counter-attack “was very much an Afghan show,” with the U.S. and France providing helicopter support, Dempsey said.
Panetta said 2011 was “a clear turning point” in the war and that the coalition has weakened the Taliban.
“It is clear we are headed in the right direction right now,” he said.