KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban attack last week on a popular resort outside Kabul not only terrified locals and undermined the U.S. and Afghan government narrative that security here is improving. If the views of Kabul University students are any guide, the attack also showed that President Hamid Karzai’s administration is fast losing the confidence of a generation of aspiring professionals critical to rebuilding Afghanistan.
Eighteen Afghans – including a police officer and several security guards – were killed in the raid on Qargha Lake’s Spozhmai restaurant, which began late Thursday night and ended at 11 a.m. Friday. All four Taliban attackers were also killed in fierce fighting with Afghan and coalition forces.
“We’re all really worried about what happened at Qargha,” said Ekrullah, 19, an Earth sciences student at Kabul University. Referring to the lakeside resort about a half-hour’s drive west of the capital, he said, “This is a place for picnics, but after this attack we won’t be able to go to such places because we’re so scared.”
Afghan government and coalition officials have been quick to praise the Afghan police commandos involved in ending the siege, offering their actions as an example of the steadily improving quality of Afghan security forces. But a McClatchy reporter at the scene Friday observed Norwegian special forces soldiers – the Afghan commandos’ trainers – leading an assault on the restaurant where the attackers were holed up.
Ekrullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said he did not believe officials’ claims that Afghan security forces will be able to adequately defend the country when the majority of international combat troops leave by the end of 2014. “We’re so nervous about the future after 2014,” he said. “The Afghan security forces need at least five years’ support and development. They’re just not ready now.”
University students represent a sophisticated and educated young elite in a country where the majority of adults are illiterate, and they are not prone to overstatement. However, almost all of the dozen students McClatchy interviewed said that security was getting worse and that the government was not being honest with its people about the severity of the crisis.
Earlier this week, the U.S.-led coalition reported that insurgent attacks in May rose 21 percent from the same month last year, a sign that the Taliban-led insurgency is far from defeated. None of the students had confidence that the Afghan government or its security forces would be able to cope with the growing challenge.
“The ANA (Afghan National Army) are recruiting people who have economic or other problems,” said Aisha Mohammadi, a 21-year-old law student, referring to the fact that many recruits are unemployed or drug users. “They’re not motivated; they just want a job.”
Mohammadi said that the attack at Qargha had seriously damaged the perception that security in Kabul had been relatively good. “I’m worried, I’m scared,” she said. “Now my family won’t allow me to go to Qargha for a picnic.”
The Taliban have claimed in a Website statement that they targeted Spozhmai because the restaurant was being used for activities prohibited by Islamic law, including prostitution and the consumption of alcohol. However, while alcohol was known to be used at the resort, managers there and local authorities have strongly denied the claims of illicit sexual activity.