The attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul demonstrates the difficulty of building indigenous security forces that actually protect security. It is easy to hire people and give them guns. It is much harder to get them to risk their lives and fight. Journalist Patrick Cockburn writes:
It is a measure of how bad security is in Afghanistan that it turns out to be more dangerous to stay in the Intercontinental today than it was then. I revisited the hotel, which sits on top of a hill in west Kabul, at the end of last year and it seemed relatively safe. Our car and our IDs were checked at the bottom of the hill, followed by a pat-down and a further check immediately in front of the hotel entrance. But when I asked local Afghans what were the limits of government control on the ground in this part of Kabul, they said anywhere south and west of the Intercontinental was dangerous.
In any case, full protection against suicide bombers is almost impossible. It will have occurred to most of the ill-paid guards on checkpoint duty, be they in Kabul or Baghdad, that medals for success in stopping suicide bombers are likely to be posthumous. If they do identify a bomber at a distance they might open fire, but at close range it is more in their interest to wave him on than try to stop or shoot him. When I lived in the much-bombed al-Hamra hotel in Baghdad, three friendly and jocular guards would minutely search my car every time I returned to the hotel. When I asked them if this was really necessary, they explained they did it “because we know you are not a suicide bomber, but by searching your car carefully we can earn our pay without any danger. When there is a really suspicious car, only one of us does the searching while the others take shelter.”
When I visited Kabul last year, my group stayed at a low-key British lodge that could not be seen from the street. It offered decent rooms, internet service, and alcohol, and, most importantly, was not a high-profile potential target for attack. But that fact that we had to seek that kind of accommodation after nearly a decade of American combat in Afghanistan demonstrated how hard it is to create a modern nation state where none has ever existed.
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