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Kabul security situation

September 9, 2020

Summary: A bomb attack attempted to kill Amrullah Saleh, First Vice President of Afghanistan. While the attack failed in its goal, at least ten were killed and many injured.  Saleh survived a suicide bomb blast in July 2019.   Regular terror attacks continue to strike the capital, although gathering data on numbers of attacks and casualties is not easy and it is also difficult to attribute attacks to different groups amidst a routine flow of claims, counter-claims and denials from the main terrorist groups.  The nature of attacks looks to be shifting – there are fewer large-scale indiscriminate attacks and many smaller attacks, intended to target government and military individuals.  It is likely that some attacks are intended to influence or disrupt Taliban-Government peace talks.

On Wednesday 9 September 2020, an explosion struck the convoy of vehicles belonging to Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan government intelligence chief and now First Vice President.  The vehicles were moving inside Kabul city.  Details are still unclear, but it appears as if a dozen civilian bystanders and government officials have been killed and many more injured.  Saleh himself suffered minor injuries.  In July 2019, Saleh had also been attacked, by a suicide bomber, in his office in Kabul.Saleh: escaped with minor injuries

Regular terror attacks strike the capital, although gathering data on numbers of attacks and casualties is not easy and it is also difficult to attribute attacks to different groups amidst a routine flow of claims, counter-claims and denials from the main terrorist groups.

UNAMA noted in October 2019 that “Civilians living in the provinces of Kabul, Nangarhar, Helmand, Ghazni and Faryab were most directly impacted by the conflict (in that order)”.[1]  Kabul province continued to suffer from a high rate of civilian casualties in 2019:[2]

There are risks from indiscriminate violence in Kabul and the security situation remains poor.  The city was regularly hit by large-scale indiscriminate terrorist attacks throughout 2019 – as it was in 2018 and the years before that.

Kabul city is a favoured area of operation for the insurgents as it provides high profile media publicity and is a “target-rich” environment.[3]  Many attacks have struck the capital throughout the years, conducted primarily by three separate insurgent groups: the Taliban, Islamic State and the Haqqani Network (a smaller insurgent group loyal to the Taliban).  Each attack can cause dozens and even hundreds of dead and wounded. The city centre is generally the main location for attacks, including public areas, such as markets and mosques.[4]  In the last few months, the trend of attacks looks to be shifting: there are fewer larger scale indiscriminate attacks and more focused attacks against specific individuals.  This could well be the result of the Taliban and the Afghan government’s proximity to talks.

Here is a non-exhaustive summary of some of the main incidents from 2020 thus far.

On 11 February 2020, a suicide attack targeted a military academy in Kabul, killing at least five.[5]  On 6 March 2020, a terrorist attack targeted an open air ceremony attended by many government officials, including Afghanistan’s CEO, Dr Abdullah.  Twenty seven people were reported killed and fifty five injured.[6]  On 9 March, during the swearing-in ceremony of President Ashraf Ghani, several rockets landed in and around the area.[7]  On 25 March, suicide bombers and gunmen attack targeted a Sikh place of worship, killing around 25 after six hours of fighting.[8]  On 29 April, a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan Special Forces base in the southern part of the city, killing three civilians and wounding 15.[9]

Two explosions hit Kabul on 7 May, with no casualties.[10] Four explosions in and around the capital detonated within a space of 90 minutes on 11 May.  No casualties were reported.[11]  On 12 May a major attack on a hospital in Kabul took place.  Protracted fighting took place as government security forces attempt to deal with armed gunmen.  Much of the fighting took place in and around the maternity wing.  Women, nurses and babies died in the attack.  One hundred women and children were evacuated during the fighting.  The attackers were dressed in police uniforms.  The Taliban denied responsibility.  It is very plausible that Islamic State were behind the attack.[12]  Three magnetic bombs detonated on 18 May, injuring five.[13]  On 30 May, Islamic State claimed a bomb attack on a Kabul radio station that killed a journalist and a technician, and injured seven others.[14]  On 2 June a bomb inside a mosque in Kabul killed a senior religious figure.[15]  A further attack on another Kabul mosque on 12 June killed four and wounded eight, including the mosque’s prayer leader.[16]  On 27 June two staff of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission were killed in a car bomb attack.[17]  In a twenty-four hour period over 9 and 10 August, two explosions struck Kabul, killing or wounding at least nine people in total.[18]  On 18 August, multiple rockets landed inside Kabul, during a celebration of independence day.[19]  On 22 August, the New York Times reported:

 

“Three magnetic bombs went off within one hour on Saturday morning, and at least two more targeted attacks followed before the end of the day.”[20]

On 23 August, Afghan President Ghani sacked the Kabul police chief because of a failure to improve the security situation and the increase in attacks in and around the capital.[21]  There is a growing sense that the situation is getting worse in Kabul:

“Mornings in the city begin with ‘sticky bombs,’ explosives slapped onto vehicles that go up in flames. With night comes the dread of hit-and-run assassinations in the nearby suburbs — government employees shot dead by motorcycle-riding insurgents who roam free.

As peace talks to end Afghanistan’s long war face delays, the Taliban may be sparing Kabul, the capital, from mass-casualty attacks as part of an understanding with the United States. But the insurgents have instead shifted to a tactic that is eroding the Afghan government’s standing with each passing day: frequent targeted assaults that the country’s security forces seem unable to control.

The city has taken on an air of slow-creeping siege.

At least 17 small explosions and assassinations have been carried out in Kabul in the past week, according to a tally by The New York Times.”[22]

It remains difficult to attribute particular attacks, but it is likely that the bulk of these attacks are initiated by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network who have extensive intelligence and terror networks in the capital.  Larger, more indiscriminate attacks are plausibly being undertaken by Islamic State and other smaller spoiler groups.  The picture will remain unclear – there are network overlaps between the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Islamic State, permitting “deniability” as necessary.  Some of these attacks will be timed to coincide with developments in the peace talks, others will be working to undermine the talks or to longer-term or separate agendas.  Others still will be uncoordinated entirely.  The trend of smaller explosions is likely to continue – they allow the Taliban to put pressure on the Afghan government without bringing down excessive popular and international condemnation.   Larger incidents are more likely to be the work of Islamic State and smaller splinter groups looking to spoil talks and contribute to their preferred goal of greater instability across the country.

[1] ‘Quarterly Report on the Protection of civilians in armed conflict: 1 January to 30 September 2019’, UNAMA, 17 Oct.  2019, https://unama.unmissions.org/protection-of-civilians-reports, pp.1-2.

[2] ‘Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’, UNAMA, Feb. 2020, p.iii, https://unama.unmissions.org/protection-of-civilians-reports

[3] ‘At Least 14 Killed, 145 Wounded In Taliban Car Bombing In Kabul’, RFE/RL, 7 Aug. 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-kabul-car-bomb-oolice-station-dozens-injured/30097013.html

[4] ‘Afghanistan: Dozens killed in bomb and gun attack on Shia mosque’, Al Jazeera, 3 Aug. 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/08/suicide-bombers-target-shia-mosque-eastern-afghanistan-180803104926634.html

[5] ‘Afghanistan: Suicide attack in Kabul kills several’, Al Jazeera, 11 Feb. 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/kabul-hit-suicide-attack-casualties-feared-reports-200211041316764.html

[6] ‘Kabul attack: Abdullah Abdullah escapes deadly attack’, BBC News, 6 Marc. 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51766602

[7] Mashal, M., Faizi, F., and Rahim, N., ‘Ghani Takes Oath of Afghan President.  His Rival Does, Too’,  The New York Times, 9 Mar. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/world/asia/afghanistan-president-inauguration-ghani-abdullah-.html

[8] Abed, F., ‘Gunmen Storm Sikh Complex in Kabul, Killing 25’, The New York Times, 25 Mar. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/world/asia/afghanistan-sikh-kabul.html

[9] ‘Afghan Officials: Suicide Bomber Kills 3 Civilians in Kabul’, The New York Times, 29 Apr. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/04/29/world/asia/ap-as-afghanistan.html?auth=login-email&login=email

[10] ‘Afghan Official says 2 explosions rock Kabul; no injuries’, Star Tribune, 7 May, 2020, https://www.startribune.com/afghan-official-says-2-explosions-rock-kabul-no-injuries/570279762/

[11] ‘Afghanistan: 4 explosions in Tahia Maskan area in Kabul’, India TV News, 11 May 2020, https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/world/afghanistan-explosions-tahia-maskan-area-kabul-616165

[12] ‘Afghan attack: Babies killed as gunmen storm maternity ward’, BBC News, 12 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52631071

[13] Twitter account of 1 TV News AF, 18 May 2020, https://twitter.com/1TVNewsAF/status/1262371316310716416

[14] ‘Islamic State Claims Blast That Killed Afghan Journalist, Technician’, RFE/RL, 31 May 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/islamic-state-claims-blast-that-killed-afghan-journalist-technician/30644218.html

[15] ‘Afghanistan: Two killed in bomb attack inside Kabul mosque’, Al Jazeera, 2 June 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/wounded-suicide-attack-kabul-mosque-200602160137783.html

[16] ‘Deadly blast hits Kabul mosque during Friday prayers’, Al Jazeera, 12 June 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/deadly-blast-hits-kabul-mosque-friday-prayers-200612092826021.html

[17] ‘Afghan Human Rights Body Staff Killed In Kabul Bomb Attack’, RFE/RL, 27 June 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/two-members-of-afghan-human-rights-body-killed-in-kabul-bomb-ttack/30693806.html

[18] ‘Second explosion reported in Kabul city in less than 24 hours’, Khaama Press, 10 Aug. 2020, https://www.khaama.com/second-explosion-reported-in-kabul-city-in-less-than-24-hours-09013/

[19] ‘Kabul under rocket attacks on its 101st Independence eve’, Khaama Press, 18 Aug. 2020, https://www.khaama.com/kabul-under-rocket-attacks-and-on-its-101st-independence-eve-0980987/

[20] Mushal, M., Faizi, F., and Rahim, N., ‘With Delay in Afghan Peace Talks, a Creeping Sense of “Siege” Around Kabul’, The New York Times, 24 Aug. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/23/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-attacks-kabul.html

[21] ‘Kabul police chief sacked after spike in attacks’, Pajhwok News, 23 Aug. 2020, https://www.pajhwok.com/en/governance-politics accessed 24 Aug. 2020.

[22] Mushal, M., Faizi, F., and Rahim, N., ‘With Delay in Afghan Peace Talks, a Creeping Sense of “Siege” Around Kabul’, The New York Times, 24 Aug. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/23/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-attacks-kabul.html

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2020 12:38 pm

    I wish I could ‘like’ this report, but of course I can’t. Pity for Afghan people…

    • September 9, 2020 1:28 pm

      Understood Ron – and these are just the higher profile incidents – many attacks, blasts and killings going under the media radar…

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