Taliban's 'Spring Offensive' Leaves 15 Dead

The Taliban's so-called "spring offensive" started off with a bang with weekend attacks in Kabul and other cities. The capital is reportedly quiet now but the situation elsewhere is unclear. The casualty toll appears to be relatively low but the scope of the attack demonstrates the insurgents' capacity to strike almost anywhere. Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Quil Lawrence.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Over the weekend, in Afghanistan, four civilians and 11 members of the security forces were killed in attacks by insurgents, but today, Afghan officials said that death toll was low considering the assaults were near simultaneous and occurred in four Afghan provinces. Members of the government praised the performance of the police and army.

Still, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said intelligence failures by the Afghans and NATO allowed insurgents to infiltrate Kabul. For more, we're joined by NPR's Kabul bureau chief Quil Lawrence. And Quil, first of all, tell us more about these attacks and who exactly appears to have carried them out.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Afghan officials are blaming members of the Haqqani network, which is a group believed to be based inside Pakistan, just across the border from Afghanistan, which is strongly both with the Taliban and with Pakistan's intelligence service. They're considered to have the most competent fighters inside the Taliban insurgency movement. And they're also considered to provide, I guess, the most important pipeline of fighters and suicide bombers that infiltrate into Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say it took them such a long time to end the assault because they had to consider civilians in the neighborhood and that the insurgents had badly booby-trapped most of the buildings. And in one case, they actually had civilian hostages in the building. They did say that it took them almost 24 hours, but they killed all 36 insurgents who staged these different coordinated attacks.

CORNISH: And so, as we mentioned, President Karzai said that NATO and the Afghan government failed to prevent the attacks. Are you hearing any reaction to this?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, President Karzai seemed to go out of his way, and not for the first time, to take a swipe at NATO. He said they were especially to blame. A leading Afghan news network is quoting the secretary general of NATO as saying that intelligence, of course, wasn't perfect, but that playing a blame game doesn't help. But this clearly was a huge intelligence failure, according to observers here on the ground.

It's basically in one of the sites that was attacked, a building near what is now considered Kabul's sort of green zone, with many embassies and NATO headquarters. The amount of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades that was used by this team of six insurgents must have taken them many hours to carry just up the stairs to the fourth floor, not to mention the days it must have taken them to smuggle it in.

Some people are speculating there could have been police, some sort of inside help from the Afghan police.

CORNISH: And President Karzai is commending Afghan security forces, but were they really leading the response to these attacks?

LAWRENCE: It does seem that they were in the lead for most of this and while there were some foreign advisors to the Afghan special forces, it was only towards the end of the assault that some American helicopters, Black Hawk helicopters came in and provided some supporting fire. That was in the last hours and they did strafe one of the buildings near the embassies.

CORNISH: Now, the Taliban has said that this is the opening of their spring offensive. Does that give you any sense of what we can expect this season?

LAWRENCE: It appears that they are going to be, once again, seeking the softer targets, any Afghan civilians who are working with NATO or working with Afghan forces and going for a big splash. People would say this attack was militarily insignificant, but it did lock down huge areas of Kabul and terrorize a lot of the city's and a lot of the country's population for almost 24 hours.

CORNISH: We've been speaking with NPR's Quil Lawrence in Kabul, Afghanistan. Quil, thank you.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

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