New attack shows Taliban reach

Posted: April 19, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan - A Taliban agent opened fire inside the Afghan Defense Ministry on Monday, killing two Afghan soldiers in the latest daring attack inside a government installation.

The Taliban said that the attacker was an army officer who was one of their agents and that the attack was planned to coincide with the visit of the French defense minister. French officials said the minister, Gerard Longuet, was not in the ministry at the time.

Despite the Taliban claim, Afghan military officials said it was not immediately clear whether the assailant - who was wearing a vest rigged with explosives - was an enlisted soldier or an insurgent disguised in military uniform. The assailant was shot down before he could trigger the vest.

The assaults over the last four days - first inside a police headquarters, then a base shared with U.S. troops, and now the heart of the Afghan military establishment - signal the start of the Taliban's spring offensive after a relative lull over the Afghan winter.

Afghanistan's war usually follows an annual cycle, with fighting increasing in the spring and summer as insurgents pour over the mountainous border from Pakistan.

The Afghan government is ramping up recruitment of soldiers and police officer so it can take the lead in securing the nation by the end of 2014, when international troops are expected to be gone.

The government added 70,000 police and soldiers last year in efforts to reach 305,000 troops by the end of this year.

These recruits are supposed to be vetted by past employers or at least village elders. Even with those policies in place, there is often a dearth of information about those who enlist.

Monday's attack also signified sophisticated Taliban intelligence gathering. Defense ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi confirmed that the French defense minister had been scheduled to meet with his Afghan counterpart Monday afternoon, though the information had not been publicly released for security reasons.

That meeting occurred on time and without incident inside the very building the gunman had forced his way into earlier in the day, Azimi said. Longuet also met with President Hamid Karzai later Monday, the president's office said in a statement.

Longuet arrived Sunday and had been meeting with French troops in the east. About 3,850 French troops are deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission.

The recent assaults also demonstrate the geographical reach of the insurgency beyond its southern stronghold.

The most recent targets were in Kabul and eastern Laghman province, while a deadly attack against the United Nations earlier this month happened in the previously peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Monday's attack came two days after an Afghan soldier working as a Taliban sleeper agent turned on his colleagues, killing five NATO service members, four Afghan soldiers, and an interpreter.

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