Afghanistan: The Increasingly Effective Suicide Bombing Campaign

3 MINS READSep 14, 2006 | 22:36 GMT
Five people died and 30 were wounded Sept. 10 when a suicide bomber detonated at the funeral of Hakim Taniwal, the governor of Afghanistan's Paktia province. Taniwal himself was killed a day earlier in a suicide attack that also claimed the lives of his bodyguard and driver. The attacks were among the latest in a growing — and increasingly deadly — militant suicide bombing campaign. In the first six months of 2006, militants conducted a total of 42 suicide bombings, killing 82 people and wounding 244. This compares with the 22 suicide attacks staged in the final six months of 2005, which killed 24 people and wounded 60. And the number of attacks continues to rise. Since July 1, militants have staged 27 suicide bombings, killing 98 people and wounding 188. (The graph illustrates the monthly breakdown).
Although most suicide attacks in Afghanistan target military forces, attacks against civilian targets, such as markets, wrestling matches and, on rare occasions, mosques, result in most of the casualties. The aim is to spread fear and chaos in the cities, which the Taliban would like to exploit as they did during their rise to power in the 1990s. The suicide bombing campaign is becoming increasingly effective for three simple reasons: better bombs, better tactics and more bombers. In the past, it was not uncommon for suicide bombers to detonate substandard explosives that killed only the bomber and whoever happened to be standing close by. This was the result of the bomber's local handler replacing the military-grade explosives provided by the attack organizers with less powerful explosives from his own stock. This problem appears to have been identified and rectified. The improvement in tactics, meanwhile, is attributable, at least in part, to al Qaeda, which is sending in fighters who have honed their skills fighting coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq. However, defectors and deserters from the Afghan security forces — fighters trained by NATO and the United States in Afghanistan — also could be sharing their knowledge of ambush tactics with the militants and providing a better understanding of a military's response to an attack, which increases the suicide bombers' ability to stage successful attacks. Al Qaeda is increasing the number of suicide bombers in Afghanistan as part of its reinvestment in that theater, which began in early 2005. Furthermore, although the majority of suicide bombers come from outside the country, the native Afghan militants (guerrilla fighters, for the most part) are slowly adapting to the suicide bombing tactic, though perhaps not as fast as the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership would want. The battle for Afghanistan is heating up on both sides. NATO, coalition and Afghan forces claimed to have killed hundreds of Taliban fighters during the summer of 2006 in offensive operations such as Mountain Thrust and Medusa. Additional NATO troops are being requested in order to maintain the pressure on the militants. Unless there is a change in al Qaeda's motivation, or its ability to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, however, suicide bombings will continue to increase — as will the death toll.

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