By Habib Zohori | McClatchy Newspapers
KABUL, Afghanistan — Attempting to embarrass the Afghan government ahead of a major national assembly, the Taliban on Sunday published what they called the government’s secret security plan for the event, including details of troop deployments and cell phone numbers of security officials.
The Taliban emailed the 28-page document — which purported to carry the signatures of top U.S. and Afghan military officials — to McClatchy and other news organizations and published it on their website, saying they had obtained it from infiltrators in two government ministries.
But the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force dismissed the claim early Monday, saying on its official Twitter feed that the “document doesn’t appear authentic.” It also said that the signature of a senior coalition commander, U.S. Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, on the last page of the document was “definitely not” authentic.
A spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry also dismissed the document as a fake; however, several of the phone numbers listed for Afghan security officials were authentic. U.S. officials had no immediate comment on the release.
The competing claims ratcheted up a propaganda war between the Taliban and ISAF ahead of the loya jirga, or grand assembly, which begins Wednesday in Kabul. If real, the document appeared to include details that the Taliban could have used to help plot an attack on the assembly. But if fake, it would bolster to the U.S.-led coalition’s claims that the Taliban leadership is struggling to regroup after months of intensified NATO and Afghan military operations against its strongholds.
“The leaking of the security plan shows that important government officials are helping us,” the Taliban said in a statement on their website. The group also claimed it was “a blow” to U.S. officials who’d argued that the Taliban have been unable to infiltrate the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said the claim was part of a “war campaign” by an insurgent group that’s been weakened militarily. The Taliban previously had pledged to target anyone who participated in the assembly, which is expected to be attended by more than 2,000 politicians, tribal elders, businessmen and community leaders from across the country.
“The Taliban are under the full pressure of Afghan national security forces,” Sediqqi said. “That is why they lied again about the security plan. They will never succeed in disrupting the jirga.”
The plan doesn’t appear to include any highly sensitive information, although it does describe a multi-layer system of security surrounding the jirga site, on a university campus in western Kabul.
It says that two rings outside the university would be manned by Afghan army and police, while inside the campus would be three rings of security checks by a government “VIP protection unit,” the national intelligence service and, in the innermost ring around the tent, members of the elite presidential guard force.
The plan also says that U.S.-led coalition aircraft would fly over Kabul “intermittently” Monday and Tuesday but would provide “constant” air surveillance on Wednesday, the opening day of the three-day event.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many Afghan government agencies or officials would have access to such a document.
The Taliban said that the publication was a response to the hacking of their website in July, when messages were posted claiming the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, which the group said was untrue. It blamed the incident on the CIA and the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency.
Although U.S. officials believe the Taliban has been weakened militarily by coalition operations, the Taliban claim to have infiltrated Afghan government ministries and security forces. A coalition report in May found that there had been at least 26 suicide bombings or attempted bombings by members of the Afghan army and police against international troops over the previous four years, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 Western personnel.
As coalition forces gradually transfer security responsibilities to the Afghan government, the Taliban claim renews serious questions about the ability of the fledgling Afghan army and police to safeguard operational security.
Karzai convened the loya jirga mainly to discuss a future strategic partnership agreement with the United States and how to pursue peace talks with the Taliban. However, private U.S.-Afghan talks on the outlines of that partnership agreement are still in the early stages and U.S. officials expect little concrete progress from the meeting.
Karzai’s main presidential rival, Abdullah Abdullah, said Sunday that he would boycott the jirga, saying it was an unconstitutional attempt by Karzai to circumvent the parliament.
(Zohori is a McClatchy special correspondent. Shashank Bengali contributed reporting.)