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Wardak suicide attack, 1st September

September 4, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: The double suicide attack against a US base killed many civilians and did not penetrate the base.  Although a failure from the Taliban perspective they are likely to persist with this form of attack: it is effective when it does work and it fits the resources at their disposal

I said I’d look in slower time at this attack.  In the early morning of Saturday, 1st September, a double suicide attack was launched against a US base in the Sayadabad district in Wardak province.  A bomber on foot launched an initial attack as an attempt to penetrate into the security checkpoint surrounding the US base and immobilise the Afghan security forces.  This was followed in short order by a fuel-tanker truck-borne device attempting to ram its way into the base and detonate.  The Afghan district governor’s office was in close proximity to the NATO/US base and was also caught in the blasts.   The base cordon was not penetrated.

A man wearing a suicide vest ran towards the base and a police headquarters in Sayed Abad, 70 kilometres from the capital, on Saturday morning, firing his rifle, before blowing himself up. He did little damage, but his purpose, officials said, was to draw attention away from the bigger danger: another suicide bomber driving a truck hauling a huge cache of explosives.

Moments after the first explosion, the truck sped towards the base, but stopped short of it amid a crowd shopping at a bazaar. There, he detonated his payload, killing eight civilians and at least four policemen, officials said. An MP from the area, Hamida Akbari, said 14 people died, including six members of the security forces.

The wounded included at least one woman, a child and three officers of the National Directorate of Security, the national spy agency. Several US soldiers inside the base were also wounded.

Casualty figures predictably vary, but it seems that 10 Afghan civilians and two Afghan policemen were killed and several dozen others – primarily civilians, but also some other Afghan security personnel were wounded.  NATO states that two of its personnel were also wounded in the attack.

Analysis and Outlook

It is a struggle to find anything particularly original to say about this attack.  I think these multiple/vehicular suicide attacks became something of an “art form” in Iraq and were imported, or “copy-catted” into Afghanistan.  Despite the proximity of the local Afghan political headquarters (in itself perhaps a reflection of how closely ISAF still needs to monitor and guide local “transitionees”), my sense is that this was a target aimed at the Western military presence and is exactly the sort of attack we will continue to see in Afghanistan for the next few years against other Western military and civilian targets.  Indeed, a very similar attack was launched against the same base almost exactly a year earlier – killing 5 Afghans and wounding 80, including 50 US troops.  It shows how vulnerable Afghan civilians and security personnel are in such an attack – the Afghan security personnel provided a vital, but bloody, “tripwire” to intercept such attacks before insurgents can penetrate into a Western base.

 Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse in Kabul said that while the NATO base may have been the target, it was Afghans who were hit hardest.

“It was Afghans that bore the brunt of the explosion, 12 Afghans were killed, dozens more wounded, and a local market place destroyed, Glasse said.

Without this, the ISAF casualties would almost certainly have been much greater.  There is perhaps an interesting angle to be noted: the contrast between, on the one hand, the apparent increasing willingness of Afghan security personnel to turn their guns on ISAF members (“Green on Blue”) and, on the other, the still strong readiness to lay down their lives to protect them.  We should remember that, although reliable statistics remain hard to come by (and will get harder to track), the brunt of the “war” is now being borne by Afghan National Security Forces, with casualty rates to match this status.

 By the way, Tim – not to go too far “off topic” – but did you take note about the news of the ANA`s recent casualties? 600 KIA during the last two month (ANA only!)? Most media seems to have payed no attention at all, execpt Khaama and Pajhwok:

http://www.khaama.com/over-600-afghan-soldiers-killed-during-the-past-2-months-739/

http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2012/08/27/600-ana-troops-die-past-2-months-mod

The reaction of some “military experts” was very telling “It`s bad news, so for god`s sake don`t mention it!”

http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2012/08/28/experts-lambast-mod-revealing-ana-deaths

Regards, GO

It is debatable whether this attack really qualifies for the description of “complex”, although co-ordinating two or more suicide attackers is clearly more difficult than one.  But there was no follow-up ground attack or other related attacks of the sort we have grown accustomed to in and around Kabul.  The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack – note that they claim to have launched a ground attack as well:

Saturday, 01 September 2012 14:31

WARDAK, Sept. 01 – The first blast was conducted by Ahmad, a brave martyr-seeking Mujahid on foot hitting a US invaders military base in Syed Abad, Wardak on early Saturday morning which eliminated almost all of the security checks and barriers followed by a massive explosion from a truck bomb by another Mujahid that destroyed much of the base facility allowing Mujahideen to get into the base compound and unleashed a face to face fighting with the American terrorist  soldiers within the base, a Mujahideen’s official  said.

Several dozens of the invading terrorists were killed and wounded in the resulting fighting, setting the base facility on fire and a number of the military vehicles and tanks were destroyed in the blast and fighting, whereas an attack helicopter among many hovering overhead which, in turn, were bombing and targeting Mujahideen combatants, got shot down by Mujahideen during the fight.

Meantime, enemy’s spying balloons were destroyed and the center of district got badly damaged as a result of the successful operation increasing the death and injury toll.

Fresh from killing numerous innocent civilians in Sayadabad, the Taliban seem unphased by (or unaware of) the irony of an adjacent report on their website from the Sunday accusing the ANSF of killing civilians:

 Puppet militias martyr 15 innocent civilians in Kunduz

Zabihullah Mujahid

Sunday, 15 Syawal 1433

Sunday, 02 September 2012 14:46

 KUNDUZ, Sept. 02 – The combined puppet, the so-called Afghan National Army  (ANA) and militias (ALP)  ruthlessly martyred as many as 15 local Afghan civilians and abducted several more on the outskirts of Kunduz city, the capital of the province of the same name early on Sunday morning, a Mujahideen official said.

ISAF have more specifically identified the attack as coming from the Haqqani Network (HQN).  HQN is an insurgent group that aligns itself closely and publically with the Taliban and declares allegiance to Mullah Omar.  From bases across the border in Pakistan, they operate primarily in south-eastern Afghanistan (the old 1980s anti-Soviet jihadic stamping ground of HQN’s “probably-still-alive” leader, Jalaluddin.  Some analysts see an agenda behind the speed with which ISAF readily attributes attacks to HQN, suggesting that it would be useful to get HQN graded and sanctioned as a terrorist group, attack its external funding sources and develop more pressure on this increasingly effective grouping of fighters.  Perhaps in this way, HQN could be separated off from the Taliban to enable deals to be struck as a “divide and rule” approach.

Conclusion

The attack matches many previous attacks and attempted attacks against Western bases.  The suicide tactic is likely to form a significant part of further insurgent attacks in the future.  In most respects, with the probable exception of the media angle, the attack has to be rated a failure from the Taliban’s perspective:

  • No NATO soldiers killed (and only two wounded),
  • the base not penetrated,
  • ANSF did their job
  • and dozens of civilians were killed and wounded.

I understand the Red Cross regularly present “feedback” to the Taliban regarding the impact of these forms of indiscriminate attack in the hope that the Taliban will be encouraged to reduce – and, ideally, refrain from – such tactics.  This goal looks unlikely any time soon, but Mullah Omar will continue to call upon his fighters to respect civilians and avoid unnecessary casualties.  Omar needs the Taliban to be seen to be attempting to demonstrate discipline and self-restraint, but I judge he will continue to struggle to monitor and enforce his own top-level instructions amongst the disparate groups that comprise the Taliban operating across Afghanistan.

This form of tactic can be very effective when it does “work” – although ISAF and the Afghan government will probably suggest that, in terms of pure military damage, these attacks are becoming less so – and suits the human, physical and technological resources at the Taliban’s disposal.  The Taliban do not need to develop a more conventional ground presence.  They would struggle to do so even if they wanted to and it would make no sense at this stage of the (great) game.  They will continue to use such tactics – even when the ISAF forces have largely departed – until such times as Afghan security force actions and capability have demonstrated beyond doubt that the results are outweighed by the efforts.

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