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Standard tactics, softest targets…

January 24, 2018

Summary: a terror attack against an NGO in Jalalabad reminds us of the difficulties in protecting soft targets and the absence of talks with the Taliban

Afghan security officers at the scene of the attack in Jalalabad

Ongoing fighting in Jalalabad.  On Wednesday morning, terrorists using small arms, rocket propelled grenades and suicide bombs launched an assault on the Save the Children Compound NGO in Jalalabad.  At least 12 are reported to have been injured although it is believed that around 100 people might actually work in the compound.  Local security forces are attempting to clear the buildings.

Violence in the playground

I hadn’t yet had the time to gather my thoughts on the Taliban attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.  The tactics of suicide bomb-followed by small arms and grenades-followed by protracted struggle to root out a handful of die-hard fighters-followed by confusion over casualties and the identity of the perpetrators are now long-established.  The assailants could be Taliban, Islamic State or the Haqqani Network (who are generally seen as loyal to the Taliban).  An NGO dedicated to the welfare of children ranks alongside hospitals, schools and universities as the softest of all possible targets.

The Taliban – who certainly have no problem killing some civilians but often distance themselves from the deaths of other civilians – appear officially to have denied involvement in this particular attack:

2h2 hours ago

Islamic State have a strong presence in Nangarhar province.  Criticism of the performance of local security forces in neutralising such attacks is probably technically and tactically justified but still harsh, given the very difficult task with which they are confronted, fighting room to room against fanatics whose express intention is to be carried out feet first.

But, as the Afghanistan Analysts Network bleakly note, Afghanistan and the Taliban are no further forward in any effort to achieve dialogue:

Despite a new offer by the Afghan government through the High Peace Council, there was not much movement toward government-Taleban talks to end the war peacefully in the past year. Both sides continue to engage in general pro-peace rhetoric, while allowing little to happen in practice. Currently, they are bogged down in a dispute over whether the Taleban political office should be in Kabul or Qatar.

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