Portrait of the Terrorist Attack as a Media Event
As you’ve probably read this morning, the Pakistani Taliban executed a complex attack — using suicide car bombers and gunmen — on the American consulate in Peshawar. The Taliban didn’t get past a consulate checkpoint. Nor did their team manage to kill any Americans. But they did bring their cameras.
The New York Times’s Robert Mackey has footage of the attack aired by Pakistan’s Geo TV. You see a really big boom, right above a Pepsi billboard, and billowing mushroom clouds of smoke. It’s easy to believe that the Taliban penetrated the compound, which is surely why the video exists.
Contrast that with the December attack on a CIA headquarters in eastern Afghanistan that left at least seven CIA operatives and a Blackwater contractor dead, all at the hands of an al-Qaeda double agent. That was perhaps the single greatest loss of life in CIA history. (It also appears to have sparked a retaliatory up-tempo in drone strike operations.) But it wasn’t filmed, for the obvious reason that the attacker had no intention of making it out alive.
Khost was a big terrorist success. Peshawar was a negligible one, and perhaps now a wake-up call to the consulate and other diplomatic presences in Pakistan. But as a media event, all the Taliban may have been after is projecting strength, rather than demonstrating it.
Update, 11:03 a.m.: I should say that between this attack and another complex one elsewhere in Pakistan, the Taliban have killed at least 3 dozen Pakistani civilians and security forces today. I did not mean to imply that U.S. assets are the only “real” targets the Taliban seeks in Pakistan, only that as a U.S.-vs-extremists event, the attack on the consulate was in fact negligible.