The Taliban’s rocket strike in the early hours of Tuesday may not have caused any serious damage to General Martin Dempsey’s aircraft parked at the Bagram airport but the incident did give them the publicity mileage they sought and brought into sharp focus their dangerous reach. The Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, on a visit to Afghanistan, was asleep in his quarters at the time and remained unharmed; the only casualties were two of the maintenance staff who suffered cuts and bruises mild enough to bring them back on duty by the evening. The exterior of the plane was damaged and the General had to fly back in another one. A helicopter standing nearby was also damaged. The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said that the attack was based on “precise intelligence” provided from inside the base, a claim that the American officials at the airport disputed, adding that the insurgents firing rockets at the airport is not something new; it occurred off and on and the attackers even did not know it was the General’s aircraft they were hitting. It was a “lucky shot”, they maintained.

In disregard of whether spokesman Mujahid’s boast of “precise intelligence” was based on a factual position or not, the daring strike at Bagram, which the US officials say is not the first one, does underscore Mullah Omar’s boast of a few days ago, that the Taliban have made deep inroads into this once secure and thriving area under the Nato forces. If they can manage to sneak, with heavy weapons, so often within a striking distance of this sensitive airport, it establishes the foreign troops’ vulnerability to their attacks less than 40 kilometres away from the capital of a country they have been occupying for nearly 11 years. The New York Times, reporting the incident of the rocket fire on General Dempsey’s aircraft, says, “the area is important because of the airfield and because the main road passes north through Bagram and the Salang Tunnel, and eventually into Uzbekistan, in an indisputable resupply corridor.”

The main item on the CJCSC’s agenda for discussing with local commanders and the Afghan government during his visit was what has come to be called the “green-on-blue” or “insider attacks” i.e. the Afghan security personnel opening fire on their trainers. There have been 40 deaths as a result of these attacks so far this year, nine of them being just in the past two weeks, as against a much smaller number during the whole of last year. The US main worry is its inquiries’ findings that the trend does not reveal the Taliban’s infiltration into the security ranks. Analysts have put the blame on cultural and behavioural differences between the Afghans and their trainers. But that alone does not explain the whole story; the underlying element of Afghan abhorrence of the foreign military presence must also be acknowledged. One wonders whether the countermeasures like keeping the guns loaded when coming into contact with the trainees or a constant monitoring of their activities would help. The “green-on-blue attacks” also point to the unstable condition that the insurgency in the country has created, which does not augur well for the hoped-for post-withdrawal peace in Afghanistan, not the least because of the sizeable presence of the so-called non-combatant foreign troops to be used in case of any turmoil. Sooner a full withdrawal settlement properly negotiated with local stakeholders takes place the better it will be for the prospects of peace in Afghanistan.