When it comes to the war in Afghanistan, it’s easy for the insurgents to make headlines, even when their attacks meet with total failure. On May 8, the Taliban launched a major attack on Afghan government targets in the insurgent’s spiritual capital of Kandahar. Press reports called it a “vengeance attack” for the killing of Osama bin Laden a week earlier. Time magazine forebodingly compared it to the 1968 Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. The general tone of the coverage was thick with knowing dread.
The outcome of the attacks was far from the doom presaged in the press. “All of the Taliban involved in the Kandahar attack were either captured or killed,” a military source with detailed knowledge of the offensive told The Washington Times. “Needless to say, not the greatest start to their vaunted spring offensive.” In late April, the insurgents announced the offensive would begin on May 1, but the heroin poppy season was not over and the leadership may have been preoccupied with what our source euphemistically called “revenue-enhancing activities.” The most significant event on May 1 was when the Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist network sent a 12-year-old boy wearing a suicide vest into a marketplace in eastern Afghanistan, killing seven civilians and wounding 34, including women and children.
The promised large-scale offensive didn’t materialize on the date promised, and throughout the week, that sector was relatively quiet. This was no accident. According to the International Security Assistance Force, the ground for the Taliban defeat had been well prepared. “It’s not like we were sitting around waiting for the Taliban to do something,” our source said. “Throughout the winter we were extremely aggressive. We pressed the fight.” During the first week in May, the number of Taliban complex attacks was lower than during the same period in 2010. “The Taliban don’t have the same sanctuaries or weapons caches they used to have,” our source said. “And a lot of their higher level leaders are gone.”
The series of attacks in Kandahar reached none of their assumed objectives. No Afghan government public buildings were seized and the insurgents inflicted few casualties. The most underreported good news story was that the defense of the city was conducted by the Afghan National Security Forces. “The ANSF did a really good job,” our source said. “They were calm; they were capable.”
Army Maj. Gen. John Campbell, commanding general of Regional Command East, told reporters on May 10 that for the men and women in uniform out on the front lines, it can sometimes feel like “Groundhog Day,” the same things happening day in and day out. But when insurgents launch an attack, there is a media tendency to dramatize it. Bad news - the fact of an attack - often gets a lot more attention than good news, such as the enemy’s complete failure to reach its objectives and the solid performance of our Afghan allies in battle. The May 8 attack in Kandahar was a case in point. The old press adage “if it bleeds, it leads” doesn’t seem to apply if it is the enemy who is bleeding.