Gen. David Petraeus wrote in his 2006 counterinsurgency manual that the U.S. command headquarters should establish a "narrative" for the counterinsurgency war -- a simple storyline that provides a framework for understanding events, both for the population of the country in question and for international audiences.
But this week's Taliban attacks on multiple targets in Kabul, including the U.S. Embassy and U.S.-NATO headquarters, are the latest and most spectacular of a long series of operations that have given the insurgents the upper hand in establishing the narrative of the war as perceived by the Afghan population.
Those attacks and other operations that generated headlines in 2010 have been aimed at convincing Afghans that the Taliban can strike any target in the country, because they have their own agents within the Afghan government's military, police and administrative organs.
In the wake of the latest attacks, the Taliban war narrative achieved a new level of influence when a political opponent of President Hamid Karzai associated with a prominent Pashtun warlord charged that the Taliban could not have pulled off such a sophisticated set of coordinated attacks in the center of the capital without help from within the Afghan security apparatus.
The Taliban have mounted three high-profile attacks in Kabul over the past three months involving suicide bombers and commandos with rocket- propelled grenades.
In late June, six suicide bombers attacked the Intercontinental Hotel, the favorite spot in the capital for westerners to hold conferences, which left the hotel in darkness for many hours.
And in August, the insurgents carried out a much more complex attack on the British Council, a semi-governmental agency involved in organizing cultural events. The attack involving a suicide bombing at a key intersection in western Kabul followed an attack on the police checkpoint guarding the British Council, and a suicide car bomb that destroyed the wall around the Council and allowed the team of suicide attackers to enter the compound.
Attacks on the capital were supposed to have been made impossible by a "Ring of Steel" around the city. After the Taliban had carried out an attack in downtown Kabul in January 2010, the Afghan police, with funding and advice from the U.S. military, set up a system of 25 security checkpoints around the capital that is guarded by 800 officers of the Kabul City Police Command battalion.
Nevertheless, the insurgents were able to smuggle weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, through the cordon and sustained an all-day attack on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters.
For the first time, a prominent political figure in Kabul has charged that the attackers must indeed have had help from people within the Afghan government's security apparatus.
Mohammed Naim Hamidzai Lalai, chairman of the Parliament's Internal Security Committee and a political ally of powerful Pashtun warlord Gul Agha Sherzai, charged that the "nature and scale of today's attack" showed that the Taliban had gotten "assistance and guidance from some security officials within the government who are their sympathizers," according to the New York Times.
"Otherwise it would be impossible for the planners and masterminds of the attack to stage such a sophisticated and complex attack, in this extremely well-guarded location without the complicity from insiders," he said.
Central to the Taliban strategy has been a series of assassinations of top Afghan government figures that has demonstrated their ability to place their own agents within the most secure spots in the country.
In mid-April, a Taliban suicide bomber wearing a policeman's uniform was able to penetrate security outside the Kandahar police headquarters and killed the provincial police chief.
On May 28, a Taliban suicide bomber who had been able to gain access to the governor's compound in Takhar province detonated his suicide vest in the hallway outside a meeting room and killed the police chief for northern Afghanistan, Gen. Mohammad Daud Daud.
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