U.S. official: attack on American embassy in Kabul ‘not a very big deal’

Updated

The American Ambassador to Afghanistan today blamed the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on the Haqqani network and made a particular point to downplay its significance. From The New York Times’ coverage this morning:

“This really is not a very big deal, a hard day for the embassy and my staff, who behaved with enormous courage and dedication,” the ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, said. Mr. Crocker brushed off the significance of the attack, which began Tuesday afternoon and stretched into the next day, calling it “a half a dozen R.P.G. rounds from 800 meters away.” “If that’s the best they can do, you know, I think it’s actually a statement of their weakness,” he said.

Yesterday, as news of the attacks was being broadcast and analyzed, Andrew Exum, writing at Foreign Policy, cautioned against drawing any conclusions about what these attacks mean about the relative strength or weakness or desperation of insurgent groups in Afghanistan.

One conclusion we can draw with relative confidence, though, is that the goal of this attack was more psychological than physical. … A bold, coordinated assault on such a high-profile U.S. target in the center of Kabul was meant to send a message to both Afghans and Westerners alike and was meant to be amplified by the many and varied media organizations based in Kabul. Most Western media bureaus, in fact, are located just a few minutes’ walk or drive from the U.S. Embassy. A second conclusion we can draw concerns the performance of the Afghan security forces. … To what degree, during this attack, was the response led by Afghans as opposed to their NATO mentors? With what degree of skill did the Afghan security forces use their own weapons, and how did they shoot, move, and communicate in the face of the insurgents? And after several years of calm in Kabul, does Tuesday’s attack signal a degradation of the Afghan intelligence networks that have thwarted earlier attacks on the capital? These are crucial questions because the ongoing transition in Afghanistan rests on the assumption that the country’s security forces and intelligence services will be prepared to take responsibility for those areas that are transferred. If the Afghan security forces and intelligence services can safeguard their own capital city – which local police officials have previously boasted is guarded by a “ring of steel” – that is reason for encouragement. If they cannot, that is reason for despair.

The coordinated assault on the embassy and international military headquarters ended after about 20 hours. In a report today from the unfinished building militants had taken over, NPR’s Quil Lawrence reports signs of continued tension in Kabul.

U.S. official: attack on American embassy in Kabul 'not a very big deal'

Updated