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“…such unreasonable actions”: the Farah courthouse attack

April 4, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary:  A Taliban raid kills many civilians and is suggestive of a limited or conflicted insurgent imagination and the closing of doors for dialogue.  Is there a plan behind mass casualties, or simply a botched operation?

Map, Afghan, Farah provinceThe Taliban launched (and claimed) an attack in Farah province yesterday:

BBC News, 3 April 2013: A suicide bomb and gun attack on a courthouse in western Afghanistan has left more than 50 people dead and 90 injured, most of them civilians.  Militants disguised as soldiers tried unsuccessfully to free suspected Taliban members in the capital of Farah province, Afghan officials said.  After a fierce initial gun battle, shooting continued as militants took cover in nearby buildings.  The Taliban said they were behind the attack in Farah, which borders Iran.  This was the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since December 2011 when at least 70 people were killed in a blast at Kabul’s Shia shrine.

No international forces involved.  Often the Taliban prefer to wait and see how many civilians die in their suicide attacks before claiming it or denouncing it as a plot against them.  It is often a struggle to understand what gain the Taliban might think they are getting from operations such as this attack yesterday on a Farah courthouse which reportedly saw the deaths of 50, together with 90 injured (according to the BBC), particularly if there is to be any prospect for dialogue at some point.

An injured Afghan army soldier is taken to hospital in Farah after a suicide attack on a courthouseThis from the Taliban:

FARAH, Apr. 04 – Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate carried out a successful martyrdom attack inside Farah city on Wednesday morning, according to officials.

The attack began at around 08:00 am local time when a hero of Islamic Emirate riding an ANA pickup truck detonated some 700kg of heavy explosives at the criminal department, clearing the way of all obstacles besides causing the enemy other losses.  Later 2 heavily armed groups compromising of 7 martyrdom seekers made their way inside enemy buildings. 4 Mujahideen under the leadership of Muhammad ‘Arif entered the courthouse while 3 others under the command of Mujahid Rahmani entered the city council building and began a half an hour operation during which all the government officials were killed.  Later hireling ANA/ANP forces tried to raid the buildings multiple times but were repelled by Mujahideen, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy.  At around 03:00 pm, hireling commando forces arrived at the scene and carried out a failed raid which left 6 hireling gunmen dead and 3 others wounded.  A second raid was launched after the initial failure, sparking heavy clashes in which 3 more commandoes were killed and 3 wounded whereas the last martyrdom seeker (Hamza) attained martyrdom after eight and a half hours at around 05:00 pm local time.  Officials from the area say that so far the bodies of 53 government officials from courthouse and city council have been recovered while the total enemy fatalities including ANA and ANP reaches 80 with some 75 others wounded.

Similarly, 5 civilians were martyred and 8 other injured.

Analysis and Outlook

It suggests yet again that the Taliban are increasingly having to hit softer targets and perhaps less-well protected targets outside the capital.  Mindful of the Taliban’s strong focus on Taliban prisoners, this might have been a botched attempt at a jail break – an alert security cordon or a bomb prematurely detonated?   They admit themselves to five civilians killed, but I guess government civil servants ought to come under that category as well.  Are they embarrassed about an attack gone wrong?  Possibly.

Ironically, I was re-reading the Taliban statement from the Paris research conference at the end of last year, which talked about “ a clear framework for peace” and referenced Mullah Omar’s Eid statements concerning guidelines to the Taliban on “…protection of civilian life and [avoidance of] bombings in places of gatherings.”

Mixed messages?

There must be a real disconnect between the political, pro-dialogue section of the Taliban and the military faction – and indeed which seems to be reflected in the messages included on their website.  Yesterday on their website a message trumpeted the Taliban’s releasing of a kidnapped Turkish engineer:

to show their good will….According to the Islamic sympathy and human compassion…

Increasing the irony, given that the Taliban appear to have claimed this Farah courthouse attack proudly for themselves, the Taliban Paris statement blames foreign intelligence agencies and the Karzai government for;

“blowing up bridges, throwing acid in the faces of students and targeting civilian vehicles with roadside bombings…[which] have not been perpetrated by the Mujahideen and are the works of intelligence agencies…Peace is being sacrificed in the long run with such unreasonable actions…”

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