I attended the funeral for the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani last week and was impressed by the display of honor and remarkable resilience of senior Afghan leaders.
President Karzai captured the somberness of the event, but also the necessary resolve to bring peace to Afghanistan. “The blood of the martyred [Rabbani] and other martyrs of freedom requires us to continue our efforts until we reach peace and stability…we consider it as our responsibility to fight the enemies of peace with determination.”
The murder of Professor Rabbani is a tragic loss for his family and Afghanistan, but it is also evidence of how the Taliban does not connect with the Afghan people. Instead, it resorts to terrorism and murder as its primary tactic. Secretary Panetta said it best,
We’re concerned about these attacks because of the loss of life and because they represent an effort to disrupt the progress we have made. These kinds of attacks were not unexpected and we have been able to prevent the vast majority of the Taliban’s efforts to carry them out. Overall, we judge this change in tactics to be a result of a shift in momentum in our favor and a sign of weakness in the insurgency.
To be sure, the murder of Professor Rabbani was not a breach of security, but a breach of trust. The Taliban violated cultural norms by concealing explosives in a Lungee (an Afghan turban). The Taliban violated any care for Afghanistan by feigning peace overtures to conduct an attack.
The country mourned Professor Rabbani’s death for three days and Afghanistan’s parliament celebrated him as a hero of peace. National unity was on display in Kabul as millions came out to pay last respects and celebrate his life. Afghans overwhelmingly favor a unified, multi-ethnic country and want to assume responsibility for their own security, which various insurgent groups consistently try to undermine.
Key to bringing security and stability to Afghanistan is developing the Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police. The Afghan people want to serve; we see dedication to their country in the 8,000 young men who report monthly to military and police recruiting centers. Through international opinion polls, we see the public’s increasing confidence in their security force. And we see self-sacrifice, dedication to duty, and courage in the fielded force. Over the last several months, personnel from the Afghan National Security Force have illustrated they are eager and capable of assuming security responsibility from ISAF forces. Not widely covered in the media, there have been several self-less acts by Afghan police, which can only be described as heroic.
During the harassment of the US Embassy on September 13, Afghan National Police neutralized other attacks around the city. Outside the Afghan National Civil Order Police Headquarters of the First Brigade in Kabul, a police officer identified a suicide bomber outside the gates. His instinct to protect his comrades led him to rush the attacker, wrap his arms around the attacker, and absorb the explosives. He left behind his wife and 4 children.
At another Ministry of Interior facility, two surveillance officers noticed an individual acting strangely. The officers approached the man, who drew his weapon, but the police were able to stop him with return fire. One officer was mortally wounded, but the police prevented the attacker from detonating an explosive-laden case saving the lives of his comrades.
In yet another failed attempt to inflict mass casualties, a young Afghan patrolman identified a suicide bomber outside of a local high school. When it became clear that the bomber was headed into an area congested with Afghan civilians and school children, the patrolman tackled the bomber as he detonated his explosive-laden vest. Although he was killed in this attack, his selfless actions undoubtedly mitigated catastrophic loss of life and reinforced the growing sense of duty by the Afghan National Police to serve and protect Afghan civilians.
Acts of heroism like these are increasingly common and remind us of the dangers posed by insurgents, but they also highlight that Afghan police have benefitted from international assistance. Having served nearly two years in Afghanistan and watched the Afghan National Security Force grow, I remain convinced that Afghans want stability, Afghans need to be responsible for their own security, and the Afghan military and police have the required courage. We see this in the seven areas where Afghans have lead security responsibility and we expect to see more of it as other areas transition over the next several months.
Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.