KABUL A Taliban attack on an Afghan state parade was a propaganda victory undermining faith in the ability of President Hamid Karzai's government to protect itself, let alone provide security for the Afghan people, analysts said.
At least three Taliban militants managed to evade a wide security cordon and hide in a cheap hotel, one of only a very few buildings on flat ground overlooking the parade ground.
At the end of a 21-gun salute to mark the mujahideen victory over the Afghan communist government 16 years ago, the Taliban gunmen opened fire, sending the president, ministers, foreign diplomats and military top brass diving for cover.
"It was clearly aimed at grabbing enormous amounts of attention; striking in the centre of the capital," said Joanna Nathan, an Afghanistan analyst for International Crisis Group. "It was flashed around the world, but further than that, it shows them penetrating what was obviously a high security event."
Three people were killed; a parliamentarian, the head of a Shi'ite minority group and a 10-year-old child. Ten others were wounded in the attack. Three Taliban gunmen were killed in the ensuing fighting, while others may have got away.
In pure military terms, the attack missed its objectives, though it was only a matter of chance that Karzai and all the top dignitaries attending the event survived.
TALIBAN SHIFT TACTICS
The spectacle of Afghan leaders cowering on the ground and Afghan troops fleeing the parade ground will of course hearten Taliban fighters, but more importantly leaves ordinary Afghan wondering how Karzai's government can protect them.
"There is no security force in Afghanistan that people trust," said Afghan parliamentarian Ramazan Bashardost. "If you pay attention to yesterday's incident, the security forces fled the area before the ordinary people did."
While the Taliban had no doubt scored a propaganda victory with Sunday's attack, that should not cloud the overall picture of steady progress in improving security across Afghanistan, said a senior Western diplomat who declined to be named.
The Taliban have steadily shifted tactics in the last two years since they relaunched their fight to oust Karzai's pro-Western government and drive out the more than 50,000 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban suffered heavy casualties in head-on fights with Afghan and foreign forces in 2006 and began to rely more heavily on suicide bombings, launching some 140 such attacks last year.
This year, the Taliban have vowed to concentrate on the capital. An attack on Kabul's five-star Serena Hotel in January killed several foreign civilians and in so doing grabbed international headlines for weeks; far more propaganda value for the Islamist militants than a raid on an isolated village.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of casualties among foreign troops saps public support abroad for keeping troops in Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents killed one Australian soldier and wounded four others in the southern province of Uruzgan, the Australian Department of Defence said on Monday. The soldier was the fifth Australian to be killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)