Taliban Shift Tactics in Afghanistan

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 15

An increasing series of similarities between the insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq has caused concern that militants are learning from the ongoing insurgency in Iraq. The abduction of foreign civilians, the increased use of roadside and suicide bombing attacks and the frequent ambush of security forces in Afghanistan are the same strategies pursued by militants in Iraq. Speaking in Kabul about the shift in tactics, U.S. military spokesman Colonel James Yonts said that Afghan insurgents “have shifted their tactics to something that is successful” (al-Jazeera, April 10).

For instance, on April 14 a roadside bomb that targeted a car carrying Afghan police officers claimed the death of three policemen in eastern Khost province (Pajhwok Afghan News, April 14). Meanwhile, a suicide bomber in southern Helmand province blew himself up outside a British military camp, wounding three people including two British soldiers. A spokesman for the Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack, claimed in an interview with Tolo TV—a Kabul-based television channel—that the bombing killed 8-10 foreign soldiers. As for abductions, the killing of a kidnapped Turkish engineer—whose body was found burned—in western Farah province on April 3 was the most recent abduction incident of a foreign citizen in the country.

Additionally, the violence is spreading to previously safe provinces in Afghanistan. It appears that a process to foment instability throughout the whole country is underway, similar to the strategy of insurgents in Iraq. For example, Paktika—a southeastern province in Afghanistan—was chosen as the latest target by terrorists when a suicide bomber hit a group of Afghan National Army soldiers, killing one and wounding two others. The attack in Paktika marked the first suicide bombing in the province since the beginning of the U.S.-led war to oust the Taliban regime. Most suicide attacks have been confined to southern Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol and Uruzgan provinces (Pajhwok Afghan News, April 9).

The similarity of the insurgent movements in Afghanistan and Iraq could have two messages: either militants in Afghanistan are imitating the tactics used in Iraq’s insurgency to gain success, or another force is playing a guiding role in both countries. As an example of the latter scenario, consider the recent verbal support of al-Qaeda by senior Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah (al-Jazeera, February 13; Terrorism Focus, March 21), the existing relationship between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden and the unique ideology of both extremist leaders.

Nevertheless, U.S. and Afghan forces are continuing their attacks against Taliban fighters and al-Qaeda remnants. On April 14, Afghan security forces in Kandahar province, supported by U.S. military helicopters, killed 41 militants in a major battle (Afghan Islamic Press, April 15; Radio Free Afghanistan, April 15). The battle apparently lasted almost the entire day.