The recent violence in Kabul has exposed various myths. Foremost is that the US policy of winning ‘Afghan hearts and minds’ is mere rhetoric; the ground reality is the recurring barbaric practices of the American soldiers in Afghanistan, who have been acting like occupation forces of the medieval era. Recently, the pictures published in Los Angeles Times show soldiers from the American army’s 82nd Airborne Division joyfully posing with dismembered body parts of insurgent corpses. Earlier in January, a video had surfaced showing the US marines gleefully urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, the desecration of the Holy Quran at an American base triggered countrywide riots. In March, a US army sergeant went on a night-time shooting rampage in two Afghan villages killing 17; reportedly, this incident also involved rape. The sequence looks like a planned monthly calendar of activities.

About the latest photographs, Commander Isaf General John R. Allen said: “It represents a serious error in judgment by several soldiers, who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with US Army values.” The American Embassy in Kabul also released a similar statement: “Such actions are morally repugnant, dishonour the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of US soldiers and civilians.......and do not represent the core values of the United States or our military.” After every incident an ‘investigation’ is launched to determine the cause; but in all probability, no meaningful punitive action is taken. Hence, the recurrences go on!

The aura of a successful Nato/Isaf military mission after a decade-long hard work seems to have evaporated into thin air. The well coordinated attacks on seven sites in the heart of Kabul, including four Embassies, and three sites in Paktia, Logar and Nangarhar were aimed at humiliating the Afghan government and the foreign forces. The fact that insurgents retain the capacity to launch extensive and long duration attacks confirms that the US/Nato is years away from neutralising them. These attacks have enhanced Taliban’s bargaining power. For months after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there were no Taliban attacks in Kabul. But now they are frequent and fatally effective. This is just one yardstick of measuring their progress. According to a senior US army officer, the Taliban now roam freely across much of the country. The occupation forces barely control the territory they can see from their highly fortified bases.

The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told a Reuters’ correspondent that the 30 specially trained mujahideen had spent months working with mock-ups of the targets to rehearse the attacks. He claimed that heavy machineguns, rocket grenades and ammunition had been put in place before the assault with inside help from the Afghan security forces. Mujahid said: “The attacks were very successful for us and were a remarkable achievement, dealing a psychological and political blow to the foreigners and the government.......These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months.” These attacks, therefore, reinforce the belief that the Taliban have hardened sympathisers even among the most elite security forces on whose support they could count on for stacking vital logistics, like weapons, in sensitive zones and facilitating infiltrators to reach and use them whenever required.

“Knowing that foreigners lack the will to remain in Afghanistan, their intent is to show that Afghan forces are unable to effectively fight the Taliban after the foreign withdrawal. The Taliban's operating here at both physical and psychological levels,” said Professor Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. In the same vein, Dipankar Banerjee, the Director of New Delhi's Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, said: “We're only going to see an increase in these attacks. It helps [the militants] ensure political dominance in the new order as they slowly take over.”

The Afghan National Army (ANA) and police are years away from evolving into cohesive national entities. The Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported that America had spent $25 billion from 2001 to 2010 on their training; it spent another $14 billion in 2011. A 2010 International Crisis Group study stated that the army could disintegrate after the US withdrawal. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, too, maintained that “it is neither competent nor trusted.” In the absence of firm financial guarantees, however, the Afghan army and police may disintegrate.

Last week, the US/Nato officials discussed the size and amount that is required to sustain the Afghan security forces after 2014; rough estimates are $4.1 billion a year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the US to commit that it would provide “at least $2 billion” a year after its troops withdraw. Meanwhile, the US/Nato expects the Afghan forces to grow to 352,000. The current model of the Afghan security forces is focusing heavily on maintaining an army, which is trained and equipped to handle aggression by other countries. Ironically, the post-withdrawal Afghan government would require strong armed forces capable of maintaining law and order within the country.

President Karzai has criticised both Nato and the Afghan forces. He said: “The fact that terrorists were able to enter Kabul and other provinces was an intelligence failure for us and especially for Nato.” But US Defence Department Spokesman George Little claimed that the Pentagon did not believe there had been an intelligence failure. “If we’re held to the standard to have to know precisely when and where each insurgent attack is going to occur, I think that’s an unfair standard,” he said. While Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at a news briefing stated: “We had received a great deal of intelligence that the Haqqanis were planning these kinds of attacks.” Two captured insurgents, reportedly, claimed that they represented the Haqqani network. This shows that the Haqqanis now have sufficient presence and strength within Afghanistan to carry out such activities. However, Panetta and Dempsey were cautious enough not to link the attack to Pakistan. “We’re not prepared to suggest that this emanated out of Pakistan,” Dempsey said. Fixated in his campaign year framework, Senator John McCain opined that such attacks reflected the risk of the drive to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan!

According to the objectives of the two-track strategy, the Afghan war was supposed to end with the Taliban begging for negotiation after they were appropriately "degraded" by the US/Nato forces. But exactly the opposite is happening! The Americans are ready to give in anything in exchange for the rhetoric of “victory”, while the Taliban do not seem interested in allowing them even such symbolic concession. Against this backdrop, the Americans do not have a dialogue partner with whom they could negotiate with a fair degree of assurance that whatever is agreed to would be implemented. So, back to the drawing board!

n    The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.