Taliban Losing Ability to Attack Broadly, Panetta Says

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 14, 2011 — Insur­gent attacks like the one at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan’s cap­i­tal of Kab­ul yes­ter­day indi­cate the Tal­iban are los­ing their abil­i­ty to attack coali­tion forces on a broad scale, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said today.

The attack was a con­cern, Panet­ta told reporters, but the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces respond­ed well.

“Any time [insur­gents] can make their way into Kab­ul or into the cap­i­tal, that’s cause for con­cern,” the sec­re­tary said, “but at the same time, the force … respond­ed quick­ly, casu­al­ties were lim­it­ed, and we were able to basi­cal­ly defeat their effort.”

Sev­en insur­gents were killed dur­ing clear­ing oper­a­tions, along with four insur­gent sui­cide bombers. Five Afghan Nation­al Police offi­cers and 11 Afghan civil­ians, about half of them chil­dren, also were killed in the attack, and anoth­er 19 Afghan civil­ians were wound­ed.

A small num­ber of coali­tion forces were injured, but none fatal­ly, offi­cials said.

Panet­ta said he was par­tic­i­pat­ing in a secure video tele­con­fer­ence with Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. and NATO com­man­der in Afghanistan, when the attack began.

“In talk­ing to Gen­er­al Allen and ask­ing him for an assess­ment,” Panet­ta said, “he basi­cal­ly said that over­all we have con­tin­ued to reduce the vio­lence lev­el in Afghanistan, [and] we con­tin­ue to seri­ous­ly weak­en the Tal­iban through our oper­a­tions.”

Allen’s view, “and I share it,” the sec­re­tary said, “is that these kinds of attacks — spo­radic attacks and assas­si­na­tion attempts — are more a reflec­tion of the fact that they are los­ing their abil­i­ty to attack our forces on a broad­er scale.”

The attack­ers, Panet­ta said, may be from the Tal­iban-affil­i­at­ed Haqqani net­work.

“We obvi­ous­ly sus­pect that the Haqqa­nis were involved,” he said, “but we’re still try­ing to get clear evi­dence of that.”

The Haqqani net­work claimed cred­it for a large truck bomb that explod­ed Sept. 10 near a com­bat out­post in Afghanistan’s War­dak province, he added, wound­ing 77 U.S. sol­diers and killing five Afghans, includ­ing a child.

Panet­ta said he’s con­cerned about the Haqqani attacks because they’re killing peo­ple and because the attack­ers escape into a safe haven in Pak­istan.

“That’s unac­cept­able,” the sec­re­tary said, adding that mem­bers of the net­work need to know that the Unit­ed States is going to do every­thing it can to defend its forces. U.S. offi­cials have made lit­tle progress as they’ve urged the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment “time and again” to exer­cise its influ­ence over the Haqqani net­work, he told reporters.

“We are not going to allow these kinds of attacks to go on,” Panet­ta said.

The sec­re­tary arrived here today to par­tic­i­pate in the annu­al U.S.-Australia Min­is­te­r­i­al Con­sul­ta­tions.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)