More than 15 hours after the Taliban launched its spectacular coordinated strikes on Kabul and three Afghan provinces, the battle is still raging early on Monday.
As at 5.30 am IST, explosions and gunfire are being reported in the diplomatic enclave in Kabul, which was the target of rocket attacks. Journalists holed up in the area have been live-tweeting their experience all through the night – which is made up mostly of periodic explosions, at times rattling their office buildings.
Reporters narrated stories of air strikes on the building where the Taliban fighters are hold up and firing rocket-propelled grenades into the embassies and the Parliament building.
(For the latest updates, catch Reuters journalists Hamid Shalizi here and Amie Ferris-Rotman here; Dion Nissenbaum, Wall Street Journal correspondent in Kabul, here; BBC reporter Bilal Sarwary here; and Subel Bhandari, who works for a wire service here)
In the way that the attack was executed, it reminds analysts of a similar attack in Kabul in September 2011, which the US had then alleged was coordinated by the Haqqani network, and supported by Pakistan’s ISI.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the then US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had cited evidence linking that attack to the Haqqanis, and pointed to ISI support for the operation. That allegation, and the war of words it triggered, effectively set back US-Pakistani cooperation. It eventually culminated in Pakistan cutting off NATO supply routes through its territory.
This time too, the sense among analysts is that there is a Pakistan hand in Sunday’s attacks in Afghanistan. Bill Roggio notes on the Long War Journal that “(Sunday’s) attacks were likely carried out by the Haqqani Network, the powerful Al Qaeda-linked Taliban subgroup commandeered by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin.”
The Haqqani Network, notes Roggio, has an extensive presence in Kabul and elsewhere, and coordinates operations in Kabul with the Kabul Attack Network, made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda.
Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network too to the ISI Directorate, notes Roggio.
But the Taliban is claiming the entire credit for the attacks, distancing the Haqqani Network from the operations, which it says showcases a new strategy.
The Daily Beast reports that a “fierce rivalry” has developed between the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. “We want to show other groups that we too can carry out attacks in Kabul,” the report quoted an unidentified Taliban commander as saying.