|After Attack, Afghans Question Motives or See Conspiracies
||ALISSA J. RUBIN
KABUL, Afghanistan — Twenty-four hours after seven insurgents stormed a shopping center in downtown Kabul and immobilized the city, the shoemakers who ply their trade in front of the mall were back in business on Tuesday.
Nearby, shopkeepers returned to hawk tapes of Madonna alongside recordings of Afghan and Bollywood stars, and a crowd of men joked with a man wearing a large shawl, because that was the same outfit the attackers wore on Monday to hide their guns.
Stoic about the assault, convinced that it would happen again and lacking faith in the government’s ability to stop such attacks, those who work near the sites that were attacked were most interested in the question of why the insurgents had not killed more civilians.
“They could have slaughtered everyone in Faroshga,” said Mohammed Essa, 35, a shoemaker, referring to the shopping center that two suicide bombers entered Monday morning and left a shell. But the gun battle there with Afghan security forces, which lasted for hours, killed only five people — two civilians and three members of the security forces. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“It does impress us,” Mr. Essa said. “If they wanted to, they could have killed everyone.”
There were nods of assent on the raised platform where the shoemakers sit in a row under a tattered awning. “Their goal was something else. They wanted to show the government, ‘We can destroy whatever we want,’ and look what they did,” said 17-year-old Hamid Shah, gesturing at the blackened building behind him as he hammered a new heel on a customer’s shoe.
According to numerous accounts from shopkeepers who were in the building on Monday, two men wearing the large blanket-like shawls favored by Afghan men to keep out the winter chill entered the building and went up to the fourth or fifth floor. There, they threw off their cloaks, revealing heavy weapons, and told people to get out.
They fatally shot one boy, according to several accounts, and they pointed their guns at a watchman and a cleaner, firing on either side of them while shouting that everyone should leave. With only a few exceptions, people in the building emerged unscathed.
Afghan intelligence officials say they believe that the scarcity of many civilian deaths was more a matter of chance than intent. Amrullah Saleh, the chief of intelligence, said the original target had been the government’s central bank, which a suicide bomber tried to enter, but he was shot before he could get inside. Had he been able to detonate himself inside, many employees and visitors would have been killed.
The two men in shawls had planned to follow him into the bank, Mr. Saleh said, but when he was shot, they ran into the shopping center nearby.
People who were near the site of the attacks said that that still did not explain why the two men, both heavily armed, had not detonated their explosives inside the shopping center.
A dozen people interviewed all agreed that the government was too weak to prevent such assaults. Politicians and average Afghans questioned, for example, how the attackers had been able to move undetected through many checkpoints to reach the center of Kabul.
“The question is how come these terrorists are able to come all the way from the border to Kabul with all their ammunitions and stuff,” said Noor ul-Haq Uloumi, a member of Parliament who sits on its Defense Committee.
He said that corruption was probably involved. There are many reports of cases where guards have been bribed to enable criminals or insurgents to move through an area. “If we cannot eliminate corruption in the government and cannot make a government based on the rule of law to serve the people of Afghanistan, this corruption can bring many of such attacks,” Mr. Uloumi said.
Azizullah, 60, who sells music tapes from a booth that is only a few inches wider than his shoulders, made a similar point. “The government has police, intelligence guards and army soldiers in all the crossroads, so how can these people get in?” said Mr. Azizullah, who like many Afghans uses one name.
Corruption is so pervasive that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported on Tuesday that interviews with 7,600 Afghans across the country led to the conclusion that the bribes people pay account for nearly a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product.
Some Kabul residents speculated that Monday’s attack had been engineered by the United States to justify staying longer in Afghanistan. “Maybe the Americans are behind it,” said Zia-ul Haq, 22, who works in a stationery store a few feet from the site of a second major attack on Monday, in which a militant driving an ambulance blew himself up. “Otherwise, how could they have come through all these security checkpoints?”
“It is masterminded by insiders,” he said.
Several Afghans said they thought that the main motive for the attack was propaganda: to show the world that Kabul, the capital, was vulnerable. But at the same time, no one seemed to think that the government was in danger of being overrun.
“This is to show the Afghan government and the internationals that they can carry out an attack one kilometer from the presidential palace,” said Abdul Rashid, 45, who stood outside the Faroshga center waiting for a watchman to open the locked gate, so he could inspect the charred remains of his shop.
“But they can’t overthrow the government,” Mr. Rashid said. “This is only an attack, an effort at strangulation. Kabul is safe with the presence of all these security forces.”
Abdul Waheed Wafa and Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.
|Loyalties of Those Killed in Afghan Raid Remain Unclear
||The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — A group of American and Afghan soldiers swooped into a village in a Taliban-heavy district early Thursday, fired their guns and came away. And in a scene repeated often here, one side cried murder and the other side claimed success.
Late in the day, this much was clear: Just after midnight, a team of American and Afghan soldiers launched an operation to detain a Taliban commander named Qari Faizullah in a village called Baran. The village is located in the Qarabagh District of Ghazni Province, where the Taliban insurgency burns hot. Four males, including a boy, were killed in the raid, and another was detained.
But there the clarity ends. In a statement, the American command said four insurgents had been killed in the operation. Mr. Faizullah, the Americans said, was a “high-level Taliban commander” who helped lead attacks against American forces and smuggled fighters and guns.
The boy killed, the Americans said, was 15 and had reached for a gun and shown “hostile intent” when the operation was unfolding. “No innocent Afghan civilians were harmed in this operation,” the statement said.
The police chief of Ghazni Province, Gen. Kial Baz Shirzai, supported the American account. “All those killed were definitely Taliban,” he said. The boy, he said, was in fact 13 — but he, too, was Taliban.
But several residents of Baran said that all the dead were civilians. On Thursday morning, a large group of Afghans came to the provincial capital, Ghazni, to retrieve the bodies, which had been carried there by the soldiers. The villagers shouted anti-American and antigovernment slogans and called on Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to stop the attacks. In addition to those killed, two villagers were wounded in the operation, they said.
“I have known all these people since my childhood, and they are civilians — they have no link to the Taliban or any militant group,” Abdul Manan, a Baran resident, said in a telephone interview. He joined the protest.
His description was matched by another protester, Hajji Shawali. “We are here to tell Mr. Karzai to listen to our problems,” he said. “We are having problems with the Taliban. We are actually trapped by the fighting. We have no sympathy for the Taliban. We are poor people.”
Acknowledging the divergent accounts, Muhib Khapalwak, the local governor of Qarabagh, said that he would try to find out what happened.
Operations like the one in Qarabagh — nighttime raids in which the exact course of events is unclear — occur regularly in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban dominate. American and Afghan soldiers prefer to carry out operations at night, when they have the advantage of surprise and night-vision equipment and civilians are presumed to be asleep.
But night operations are unpopular among Afghans, even those who harbor no sympathies for the Taliban. American commanders have acknowledged the unhappiness; they have made protecting Afghan civilians their primary goal in the war. The Americans said recently that they would tighten the rules governing operations at night. Under the new rules, American and other NATO forces would be required to explore alternatives to night raids, like cordoning villages at night and moving in at sunrise.
In another bewildering episode on Thursday, the American command issued a statement saying that a group of Afghan and coalition soldiers had found a number of damaged Korans in an abandoned building. The statement said the soldiers had found the Korans in a house in Helmand Province — the epicenter of the Taliban insurgency — after a homemade bomb exploded nearby.
The statement offered few details, like how many Korans were damaged and what had happened to them, and where in Helmand they were found.
Earlier this month, eight Afghans were killed and a dozen wounded in Garmsir, a town in Helmand, when Afghan officers fired on a group of rioters demonstrating over rumors that American troops, on a night raid, had desecrated a Koran and defiled local women.
Also Thursday, an Afghan commando who stopped a suicide bomber during an attack on the government this week was decorated in a ceremony in Kabul. The honoree, First Lt. Mentaz, of the Sixth Commando battalion, shot and killed a suicide bomber during the attack on the Central Bank, which killed five people and wounded 38 more. He was awarded the medal of Baryal, or Freedom, for bravery.
“I am serving my country!” he shouted to his comrades after receiving his medal.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Abdul Waheed Wafa from Kabul.