A truck bomb that detonated Saturday at a US base in Afghanistan wounded 77 American troops and killed two Afghan civilians. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and released a message marking the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 claiming Afghans had “no role whatsoever” in the twin-tower attacks.
A US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 after the ruling Taliban regime failed to hand over Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was operating terrorist training camps in the country.
Much of today’s Taliban insurgency had little to no role in the former Taliban government that hosted Al Qaeda, creating hopes that some Taliban could enter a negotiated settlement that would cut all ties with Al Qaeda and other global jihadists. But the Taliban have sent mixed messages, some designed to rally their fighters, others with an eye toward engaging in a political process.
On the tenth anniversary weekend of 9/11, the Taliban went more with rallying cries than political overtures.
“Taliban propagandists who are trying to sustain their own war effort try to imply that the real reason for international intervention in Afghanistan was Western reluctance to tolerate a ‘true Islamic’ regime. This forces them into the kind of 9/11 denial which pretty much renders them beyond the pale for any Americans considering dealing with them,” says Michael Semple, a Harvard University fellow and an informal mediator in the peace talks.
“If the Taliban expect to be taken seriously as a political force they will have to move beyond that narrative,” he adds.
Unusually high number of injuries
News of the unusually high numbers of injuries in Saturday’s attack only emerged today. None of the injuries is immediately life threatening, according to a press release from the NATO-led international force.
A Taliban suicide bomber drove the large bomb in a truck carrying firewood and detonated the explosives at the entrance to Combat Outpost Sayed Abad in Wardak Province south of the Afghan capital, Kabul. The blast barriers at the base’s entranced absorbed much of the bomb’s force, NATO said.
Until June of 2007, no month of fighting in Afghanistan saw as many injuries as occurred in Saturday’s blast, according to data on icasaulties.org. The war has dramatically escalated since 2009 as the US began pouring in additional troops in response to the growing reach of the insurgency. While US war deaths – now at 1,680 in Afghanistan – receive more attention, the number of injuries recently topped 13,000.
Most Americans supported the initial NATO entry into Afghanistan under the logic that the regime harbored Mr. bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
In a written statement from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban lay out an alternate view of 9/11.
The Taliban’s alternate view of 9/11
“Each year, 9/11 reminds the Afghans of an event in which they had no role whatsoever, but, using this as a pretext … the American colonialism shed blood of tens of thousands of miserable and innocent Afghans,” the statement begins.
The statement paints Afghans in 2001 as “buoyed” by the emergence of their Islamic regime after two decades of war touched off by the Soviet invasion in 1979. Since 9/11, the Taliban have called for “an impartial investigation” into this “ambiguous and murky event,” but the US has rejected “this rational demand,” the statement says.
Having some alignment with Al Qaeda’s ideology could help the Taliban gain support within Afghanistan and from regional Islamist networks, says Waliullah Rahmani, head of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
Along with efforts to distance the Taliban from global jihadists, US policymakers are trying to craft a careful withdrawal scenario that will avoid another civil war in Afghanistan that could further destabilize next-door Pakistan.
But among the US public, fatigue with the war is running high. A majority of Americans no longer favor US involvement in the war. An August poll from Quinnipiac University found 58 percent of Americans saying “the US should not be involved in Afghanistan now” versus 35 percent saying the “US is doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now.”