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Afghan MOD suicide plot

March 27, 2012

If you thought that the trust between Afghan and international militaries was only problematic at the ground level, ie soldier to soldier, news comes of a possible discovery of a significant

Kabul, late summer 2011 - security made good pictures hard to come by...

plot for suicide attacks emanating from main headquarters.  Eleven suicide vests were reportedly discovered in Afghan Defence Ministry buildings, apparently being guarded by Ministry of Defence troops (who are currently being questioned).   The intended targets are as yet unclear, but one suggestion that they were intended for Afghan MOD employees travelling on buses to and from work.  I am sure, however, that an ISAF or VIP target might just as easily have fitted the bill.

BBC News, 27 March 2012:     Sixteen people have been arrested in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after plans for an apparent mass suicide attack were foiled.

Intelligence officials have told the BBC that 11 suicide jackets were seized in the ministry of defence.

They say the attacks would have caused significant loss of life if they had gone ahead.

Some of those arrested are reported to be soldiers in the Afghan National Army.

The jackets were seized on Monday afternoon from three separate rooms around a ministry car park, less than a kilometre from the presidential palace.

Six soldiers were arrested at the time – initial reports suggested they were armed and prepared to attack.

It appears the jackets were intended to be detonated on buses transporting staff to and from work. Eleven buses carrying 1,100 personnel were due to set off just 45 minutes after the arrests were made.

The Afghan government has simply failed for the last year or year-and-a-half to prevent rogue soldiers and Taliban infiltration.We had last year a very high-profile case of Taliban infiltration into the ministry of defence when a senior ministry official helped a suicide attacker in army uniform get all the way to the minister’s office. That official was later sacked and jailed, but it just shows you how much infiltration there has been, both at a high level and at other levels, in Kabul and across the country.

We understand from Afghan intelligence officials now that the issue of infiltration is systematic – it’s a strategy not a tactic.

Another 10 people were arrested on Tuesday and more arrests could follow, intelligence and security officials told the BBC, adding that the ministry was in lock-down.

Note the comment from Afghan intelligence personnel – infilitration is a strategy, not a tactic.  I guess one part of the problem is the increased speed with which Afghan police and soldiers are having to be recruited in order to reach the magic number of 352,000 personnel.  Must be hard to vet background (if you worry they might be Taliban sympathisers) and check the psychological profile (if you worry they might be unbalanced) of personnel.  And the foiled plot comes close after the killing of two US officers who were embedded within the Afghan Ministry of Defence and shot inside “protected” government buildings supposedly accessible only by those with necessary security clearances.   Sometimes, I like to pause with a story like this and turn it around and ask myself: “could this be an Afghan intelligence set-up?”.  For example, to restore the image of the Afghan government, boost morale and keep resources flowing in; no attack, high profile arrests, evidence of attack equipment all to hand.  Doesn’t it look a tiny bit plausible, at least?  Well, maybe not, but its always worth a quick ten seconds of reflection…

Attacks don’t have to be successful (or even take place) for them to undermine trust and have a negative impact.  It won’t look good when every US half colonel turns up to work in an Afghan ministry accompanied by a handful of US bodyguards.  I suspect many members of the ISAF international troop commitment will once again have to reappraise their location threat assessments to decide which advisor/mentor jobs still have to be done and which positions might quietly be “gapped” when the current incumbent finishes their tour…

Maybe the Taliban don’t need to go all-out for a summer fighting season when they can achieve the same media, propaganda and perception-shaping effect with events like these?

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