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Serena attack: Taliban apologise (I think) for death of children in the Serena hotel

March 31, 2014

Summary:  A Taliban statement, while blaming government and international forces, appears to be regretting the death of two children during a Taliban suicide attack on the Serena hotel.  Taliban media discourse spares minimal time for political engagement and obsesses with the worthiness of jihadic body count.  While is aware of the difficulties of selling the deaths of civilians, the Taliban can only unconvincingly deny, denounce or deflect when an operation goes wrong.  


The Taliban issued a statement on their English language website yesterday addressing the deaths of two children (and of their mother and AFP journalist father) killed by shots from Taliban assailants in the course of a Taliban suicide attack into the Serena hotel on Thursday evening of 20th March. Posing as diners, the four young (in their teens or Serena hotel aftermathearly twenties) attackers managed to get past various security checks with small pistols hidden in their socks and in an action lasting around three hours, managed to kill nine people, including two children and four foreign nationals.
The Taliban statement addresses the deaths of the children and their mother and father who appear to have been gunned down at close range:

Taliban flagWe say with regret that during this attack reports were published that a journalist along with his wife and two children were also killed.

explaining how it couldn’t possibly be their fault because:

Taliban flagThe blessed religion of Islam prohibits the killing of women and children even in times of war. So on what basis would the Islamic Emirate condone, let along perpetuate the killing of women and children.

And that therefore:

Taliban flagThe truth is the foreign invaders and their puppets have themselves perpetuated this vile act so they can libel the Mujahideen.



The statement concludes:

Taliban flagThe Islamic Emirate is saddened by the killing of the journalist and his family while attributing these incriminate actions to the cowardly foreigner invaders and their puppets, mourns with the family of the deceased and prays for their patience and steadfastness in this difficult time.

“Deny, denounce and deflect”…

The Taliban clearly didn’t feel the need to address the deaths of two Canadian women in the attack.  The Taliban have frequently had to confront the media challenge of claiming attacks that have very clearly and publically led to the deaths of Afghan civilians.  But they appear to recognise that the Serena killings are a very high profile and therefore, particularly difficult, action to “sell”.  Claims of high profile (read: military and political) foreigners killed in large numbers at key meetings in carefully planned attacks are the stock in trade of the Taliban spokesmen but it is clear, at the very least, that they do recognise that they have a PR problem here.  Hence the resort to the other default media setting of blaming the government and international forces for the killings.  But this is the nearest to an apology that you are going to get from the Taliban.
The Taliban have been painting themselves into a political and military corner for some years now. Their desire for genuine talks and other credible forms of engagement still appears minimal, fractured and incoherent. A large and still dominant chunk of the movement still seems capable of only uttering one word: “Jihad”.
But, in the meantime, the country is getting on with its third electoral cycle – with (admittedly small) improvements each time. The Taliban language remains that of violence – take a moment, if you want, to dip into their English language website. The crudeness of the daily “look, we’ve killed lots more people again” tone and the absence of in-depth political thinking does not show any understanding or debate regarding where they are going next. Even Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has urged his supporters to back a presidential candidate (his former colleague, Qutbuddin Helal) in the election, arguing that the enemy has to be confronted on political battlefields as well as military. Not turning up to fight in the political arena is to give up.
For once – and however suspicious I remain of his motives – Hekmatyar might actually be right. The Afghan people are slowly and painfully evolving in one broadly positive direction. The Taliban are increasingly out of touch. Evolving, yes, but in a different direction and at a slower speed.

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