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Audacious Suicide Attacks in Kabul Kill At Least 19

One of the first things I saw when waking up and checking my BlackBerry was a sardonic note from a contact who works on Afghanistan issues remarking on how much fun it was to see multiple suicide attacks in the heart of Kabul. That would be a reference to this — a stunning Taliban raid on the Justice Ministry, in which five attackers wearing suicide vests rushed into the building, while another team stormed a ministry correctional facility to the north. A third facility appears to have been attacked as well.

Reports are still unclear as to what exactly happened, but it appears at this point that 19 civilians and security forces are dead; eight attackers are dead; at least 50 civilians are wounded; and the Taliban is claiming there are other suicide-vest-wearing terrorists loose around the city, possibly as many as eight. It may be the most audacious Taliban attack on Kabul since the the United States and its allies drove the Taliban from power in 2001.

All of this comes as Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan. The Taliban told The Associated Press that the attacks were in response to the mistreatment of their fighters in government custody, but the timing is obviously no accident.

When I was in Khost Province in September, U.S. military officials sketched out insurgent routes from Pakistan to Kabul. Many — the numbers are unclear — through Paktika Province, move up through Gardez, trying to cut off U.S. troops in Khost, and continue on to the areas outside the capitol, used as a staging ground for further attacks. Before January, there were only a few hundred soldiers along the Logar-Wardak-provinces area where the main road north is; now an entire other brigade combat team is in the process of arriving. Whether that will be sufficient remains unclear. What’s very clear after today’s assault is that the Taliban maintains a capability to strike into the deepest reaches of the Afghan government.

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