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Two Suicide Attacks: Khost and Kabul

March 9, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary:  Two suicide attacks in Afghanistan today.  But are the Taliban running out of ideas and capability?

Map, Afg, Kabul and KhostThe BBC (and many other news sources) are reporting two separate suicide attack incidents occurring in Afghanistan today: one in the heavily defended centre of Kabul against a Defence Ministry building and one in Khost city.  Civilians and security screens bear the brunt of the casualties.

BBC News, 9 March 2013: “A suicide bomb attack on the Afghan defence ministry in Kabul has killed at least nine people, as the new US Pentagon chief visited the city.  A further 20 people were wounded by the bomber, who was on a bicycle, security officials told BBC News.  Taliban insurgents said they were behind the attack.

Reports are coming in of a separate suicide bomb attack, near the city of Khost, in which eight children and a policeman are said to have been killed.  At the time of the Kabul blast, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was in a briefing at a US-led military facility elsewhere in Kabul.  Kabul police chief Mohammad Zahir told the BBC ambulances had taken the injured to several hospitals and that the situation was under control.  Two of the wounded were Afghan army soldiers while all of the dead and other injured were civilians, an Afghan defence official told BBC News.  One woman was among those killed.

The attacker struck just before 09:00 (04:30 GMT), about 30m (yds) from the main gate of the ministry.  A man at the scene, Abdul Ghafoor, said the blast had rocked the entire area.  “I saw [dead] bodies and wounded victims lying everywhere,” he told the Associated Press news agency.  “Then random shooting started and we escaped from the area.”  US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Kabul on a surprise visit

In an email, the Taliban said it had carried out the attack and had targeted one of the entrances used by soldiers and officers.  “The attack happened during the trip of the US defence secretary, and the attack had a message for him,” the statement added.  Earlier, Mr Hagel, who became defence secretary last week, told reporters travelling with him he wanted to see for himself “where we are in Afghanistan”.  “I need to better understand what’s going on,” he said.

There are currently about 66,000 US military personal in the country and early next year that figure will drop to 34,000.  The question of how many international troops will remain after 2014 is still unknown.

‘Boys killed’

Saturday’s other reported attack occurred outside Khost, a city 150km (93 miles) south-east of Kabul.  A policeman spotted the suicide bomber, who was on foot, as he prepared to attack a joint patrol close to the US military’s Camp Salerno base, a police spokesman told BBC News.  The policeman hugged the attacker to himself in an attempt to save lives, Khost deputy police chief Mohammad Yaqub Mandozay said.  However, boys aged 12 to 14 who were working in nearby fields were caught in the explosion…”

Analysis and Outlook

No inifidels featured here...

No infidels featured here…

It is not clear if the two incidents are connected (or coordinated).  The Taliban appear to have claimed responsibility for at least the Kabul attack.  If this is the case, they have presumably judged that the target, a Ministry of Defence building (and the resultant collateral damage) are viable and can be defended as such.  Perhaps the ability to link it to US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit, however tenuous the reality, might help justifying the civilian casualties, from their perspective.  If they were responsible for the Khost attack (we should be cautious of default assumptions that the Taliban are responsible for all explosions in Afghanistan), they may hold back from claiming it if, in their judgement, the level of civilian casualties outweighs the potential military value/result of the blast.

I understood from a few years ago that the Red Cross actually spend time giving the Taliban “feedback” on the results of these attacks, giving them information, as impartially as possible, regarding the amount of casualties and damage.

Taliban targeting and methods appear to be declining in imagination, impact and effectiveness.  Although the details of the two incidents are only just emerging, it seems that, once again, civilians and low ranking security cordons are bearing the brunt of the Taliban’s efforts.  One has to wonder to what extent the Taliban actually judge these attacks to be a valuable contribution to their campaign or whether it points to a slightly leaderless “default setting” approach – we’re doing it because we’ve been doing it for a long time and because we don’t really have resources/capability/imagination to do much else.  I am not sure how strongly I feel about this at the moment, but, short of getting really lucky, where is this Taliban strategy going?

In May, it has become customary for the Taliban to announce the start of their “Spring Offensive”, in which they allocate a name – often taken from Islamic history – to their activities.  It will be particularly interesting to see what happens this year, with the massive drop in ISAF/US/Coalition activity and operations and the increasing prospect of Muslim killing Muslim as the Taliban confront Afghan National Security Forces.  Will they struggle to fan the propaganda flames of jihadi ardour with most of the infidels either, gone, going, or not coming out to play?  This was the challenge that the Mujahideen faced from 1988 onwards: recruitment dwindling, motivation dropping and unable to make a transition to a conventional army for the “final push”.  I still expect the Taliban to follow this pattern of military operations announcements but will be looking closely at the tone and style to get a sense of what they are thinking and where they might be going in terms of targets, capabilities, intent and military/political direction.  Stay tuned.

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