More Than One Way to Win?

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Afghan policemen walk outside the building from which Taliban fighters launched an attack in Kabul on Sunday.

The “spring offensive” that the Haqqani network launched Sunday in Kabul and other points around the Afghan capital was pretty bush league, by all accounts. But while it was military insignificant, its political ramifications could prove far greater.

It is disconcerting that the insurgents could launch such simultaneous attacks inside the capital – suggesting local intelligence remains weak – but Afghan security forces dealt with the situation (albeit with help from U.S. airpower) — prettily handily.

“I am enormously proud of how quickly Afghan security forces responded to today’s attacks in Kabul,” U.S. Marine General John Allen, commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement Sunday. “They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated. They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained.”

Eight Afghan security-force members, three civilians, and 36 insurgents died in 18 hours of fighting, Afghan officials reported. A militant arrested amid the attacks said the strikes were carrier out by the Haqanni network, a group from eastern Afghanistan with links to the Taliban and al Qaeda and Pakistan.

An element of the Taliban declared the attacks signaled the start of the insurgency’s spring offensive, and promised more to come. “The Taliban are really good at issuing statements,” Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told CNN. “Less good at actually fighting.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was quick to praise his forces, while putting most of the blame for the intelligence failure – surprise! – on his NATO allies. “The terrorists’ infiltration in Kabul and other provinces is an intelligence failure for us, and especially for NATO, and should be seriously investigated,” Karzai said, according to the AFP news agency.

The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese militarily “lost” their Tet offensive against the South Vietnamese and their U.S. allies in 1968, as well. But the parallels between then and now are eerie:

In each case, in a faraway land after lengthy campaigns, the foe mounts an attack on U.S. and allied forces that belies claims of American progress. And while neither offensive may have changed much on the ground in the theaters of war, they did – and could — shift public opinion against the wars back in the U.S.

But Pentagon spokesman George Little dismissed any comparison between the two. “This was not a large-scale offensive sweeping into Kabul or other parts of the country,” he said. “I’m not minimizing the seriousness of this, but this was in no way akin to the Tet offensive or other enemy offensives that I’m aware of.”