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US Envoy Says Taliban Attack on Kabul 'Not Surprising'


Richard Holbrooke (File)

Richard Holbrooke (File)

Taliban gunmen have launched a major assault on Afghanistan's capital, targeting government ministries and other buildings. The daylight attack came as U.S. and Indian government officials were plotting strategy in New Delhi for an upcoming international conference on Afghanistan.

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and Indian officials had intended to focus on discussing joint strategies ahead of the special multi-national conference later this month. The London meeting is considered crucial for setting priorities for the 43-nation coalition and getting Kabul to better govern Afghanistan.

But the U.S. diplomat and his Indian counterparts were distracted by the latest reminder of the Taliban's capability to seemingly assault Kabul at will.

Holbrooke spoke to reporters in New Delhi, while the attack was still underway in the Afghan capital.

"It's not surprising that the Taliban do this sort of thing. They're desperate people, they're ruthless," he said. "The people who are doing this certainly will not survive the attack. Nor will they succeed."

Holbrooke added he would not be surprised by further brazen attacks in Afghanistan, where he had just completed a visit Sunday.

"We can expect this sort of thing on a regular basis. That is who the Taliban are," he said. "They're part of a set of extremist groups operating in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan and they do these sort of desperate things all the time."

The special portfolio of Ambassador Holbrooke has been one of the few visible points of contention between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government.

India has been reluctant to host him out of concern the envoy wants to inject himself into the decades-old Kashmir territorial dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi. But diplomats here say India needs Holbrooke to try to increase pressure on Washington's traditional South Asia ally, Pakistan, to crack down on insurgents on both sides of Afghan-Pakistani border.

Relations between India and Pakistan have been chilly for the past 14 months. New Delhi has been frustrated by Islamabad's perceived procrastination on investigating the alleged Pakistani plotters of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack, which left more than 160 people dead.

The talks between Indian government officials and Holbrooke came a day before a regional security visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

There is a steadily warming military relationship between the two giant democracies. India has been supportive of America's anti-Taliban campaign but has not committed any of its own forces to the battle. Pakistan, which sits between India and Afghanistan, is nervous about any such Indian role. Indian assistance there is currently limited to rebuilding the Afghan government and civilian infrastructure.

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