Taliban Attack In Kabul Comes Ahead Of Peace Negotiations

Suicide bombers attacked multiple buildings in Kabul, including Afghanistan's presidential palace, early Tuesday. Robert Siegel talks with The New York Times Kabul bureau chief, Alissa Rubin, about the attack and its timing in relation to negotiations with the Taliban.

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Today in the Afghan capital, Kabul, there was a coordinated assault on the diplomatic green zone. Men in at least two vehicles bluffed their way into a secure area before detonating bombs and getting into a firefight with government security forces. Three security guards were killed, as well as all of the attackers.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Taliban has said it carried out the attack and this comes just as the Afghan government and its U.S. and international allies are positioning to enter peace negotiations with the Taliban. For more, we turn to Alissa Rubin of the New York Times. She joins us from the Times bureau in Kabul. Welcome to the program once again.

ALISSA RUBIN: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And tell us more about what happened to this morning, and how deeply these attackers were able to penetrate a supposedly secure zone of Kabul.

RUBIN: Well, the attackers were able to get fairly strategically inside the Green Zone, which is the area where there are many embassies, the presidential palace of President Karzai, the ISAF headquarters. But I think the symbolism was probably the more important element. They were able to the gates of what is widely viewed as one of the main CIA buildings here in the capital. And the Taliban stated that their goal was, in fact, the CIA compound there.

SIEGEL: Yeah, these attackers apparently came in Land Cruisers, which are like the vehicle that international groups use. They also had proper Afghan army uniforms, good enough paperwork to get through some of the security. Does that suggest to people there an inside job?

RUBIN: It certainly suggests that to people but I think there was some misinformation about exactly the circumstances. I recently was talking to some senior international officials and they now believe that at least one of the vehicles was not a Land Cruiser. It was a Toyota Corolla, which is probably the most common vehicle used in Kabul.

Certainly they did have uniforms. You can buy any uniform here you want from almost any military on the market. Clearly, someone had done their homework, however, on the badging and whatever vehicle passes that the vehicles were equipped with. They do have good intelligence, the insurgents, and they were able to execute it.

SIEGEL: Do people there find the timing of this attack - at a time when there's so much discussion of peace talks with the Taliban - do they find that at all surprising?

RUBIN: I think that people who don't trust the Taliban and don't like them, don't find it at all surprising. They never thought they really were interested in peace. On the other hand, the people who have been hopeful about the opening of the office in Doha, I think are a little more frustrated by it. And they feel as if this only undermines any steps towards a meeting, for instance, between the Afghan government and the Taliban delegation.

SIEGEL: Does anyone suspect there that perhaps the Taliban, in and around Kabul, are operating independently of the Taliban who are down in Qatar, in Doha preparing for negotiations?

RUBIN: Well, that's a very difficult question. I think there would be one school of thought that there are different factions in the Taliban, and that the ones who are mounting attacks here in the country are sort of the bad Taliban that don't want peace. And that the good Taliban are in Doha and they really do want to see progress towards a peace deal.

On the other hand, you have some people who would say, look, if you're going to divide between good and bad Taliban, and the good Taliban aren't able to stop the bad Taliban, then are they really a meaningful part of the Taliban? Or, in fact, do they not want to do it and they want the fighting part of the Taliban to continue to really drive the narrative?

SIEGEL: Alissa Rubin of The New York Times in Kabul, thank you very much.

RUBIN: Thank you.

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