Afghanistan is facing a bloody summer, after the June 1 bombing of a mosque in Kandahar and an attack in southern Afghanistan on June 8 that killed two American soldiers. Such incidents have raised many questions about the Taliban’s current activities (see EDM, June 2).
There are rumors that the Kandahar attack was the work of al-Qaeda and carried out by a lone Arab suicide bomber supposedly clad in a military uniform. The Afghan authorities say that the bomber wanted to disrupt the process of reconciliation with the Taliban. Yet, a Kabul-based daily has questioned the official Afghan stance that the suicide bomber was an Arab. Erada doubts that “an easily recognizable Arab” or alien could wait long enough while wearing army uniform to carry out the bombing (Erada in Dari, June 4). At least 21 people died, and more than 50 were injured, at the mosque.
However, a brother of Kabul police chief Akram Khakrizwal, who died in the attack, believes that the Kandahar bombing was not a suicide attack. Speaking at a press conference, Moalim Mohammad Akbar said it was a remote-controlled device, and deficient security arrangements allowed the perpetrators to flee the scene. Quoting an eyewitness account, Akbar said the bomb was placed under a carpet, and he claimed he had seen pieces of the rug flying into the air (Pajhwok, June 7).
Government officials have downplayed the incident, saying the Taliban are now more of a nuisance than a military threat. General Muslim Amid said on Monday, June 6, that the Islamic movement has lost its ability to fight the government or the U.S.-led coalition forces. He said the “backbone of the Taliban… is broken.” More than 100 rebels reportedly were killed during the last two months. Dozens of Afghan security officers and 10 U.S. soldiers have also died in fighting (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, June 7).
On Wednesday, June 8, two U.S. soldiers were killed in a mortar attack in southeastern Afghanistan. Eight other people, including civilians, were wounded (Pajhwok, June 8). According to Lt.-Col. Jerry O’Hara, spokesman at Bagram Air Base, “The figures have changed: now we have two military service members killed and eight — a combination of military service members and civilians — wounded,” he said in a statement to the press.
In a separate development on Tuesday, Jawid Ludin, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, said a shoulder-launched missile was fired at a U.S. military helicopter. The government spokesman said these two anti-U.S. attacks were attempts to “destabilize Afghanistan” ahead of the parliamentary elections. Lt.-Col. O’Hara confirmed the helicopter attack, but he downplayed the significance, saying it was “an isolated incident” (Reuters, June 7).
What does all this mean, in terms of the consequences for Afghanistan? If the Afghan government’s claim is true — that the Kandahar attack was indeed a suicide operation carried out by an Arab — it clearly shows that al-Qaeda is still actively plotting against the Afghan government, though it may not be in a position to attack the U.S.-led coalition forces. Rather it is only able to attack the lightly defended “soft targets.”
If the alleged Kandahar bomber was not an Arab but still a foreigner, then he was a non-Arab Muslim perhaps connected to Taliban sympathizers from the region. According to General Muslim Amid, the commander of Afghan forces in the region, the Taliban are still receiving outside assistance that could keep them operational for some time to come. “They receive foreign aid, supplies, and money. They have Arab, Chechen, and Pakistani fighters in their ranks,” he said (Reuters, June 7).
If the scenario presented by the brother of the late Kabul police commander is correct, then the whole picture changes, making it a domestic dispute. There are already speculations about the motives of the bombing, suggesting a tribal clash or a conspiracy carried out by one clan against another (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, June 8).
However, if the attack was indeed carried out by the Taliban, and the deaths of the two American soldiers are blamed on them, then they should still be considered a formidable enemy threatening peace and stability in Afghanistan.
A Kandahar police official said the public was worried about security, but he reassured that the situation is improving. Of course, improvement is relative. Compared to the situation one or two years ago, life in Afghanistan is indeed improving. However, if May and June of this year are compared with early spring or late last year, it is not. There are bomb blasts, violence, and kidnappings, just as in Iraq. The only difference is the scale.