As insurgent attacks increase in Afghanistan, observers have begun to wonder whether the anti-government forces are receiving foreign training and aid. Recent attacks by the Taliban, such as suicide and multiple bombings and kidnapping foreign workers, increasingly resemble the tactics currently employed in Iraq. While some in Afghanistan blame Pakistan for the increase in the level of hostilities, others believe the new tactics are a sign of desperation.
In the latest attack, on Sunday, December 4, two people were killed and one wounded in a suicide attack in the Khowajak district of the southern province of Kandahar. The suicide bomber had attached explosives to his body and had targeted a convoy of vehicles belonging to the local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). However, as he crossed the road to reach the convoy, he was hit by a passing motorcycle and the explosives detonated prematurely.
In separate incidents on the same day, five U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldier were injured when their CH-47 Chinook helicopters made hard landings during combat operations in different parts of the country, according to U.S. military reports. None of the injuries was serious, and the incidents are still under investigation. A Taliban spokesman said that Taliban fighters had attacked a U.S. helicopter in Kandahar as it discharged soldiers. “We shot it as it was landing,” Qari Mohammad Yousuf said by telephone from an undisclosed location (Anis Daily, December 5).
While the latest warfare tactics are rather new in the war in Afghanistan, suicide bombings and kidnapping are both routinely employed in Iraq. “The ‘Iraqization’ of the Afghan insurgency does not appear to be accidental,” according to independent sources. “For the last two months or so, a steady stream of reports indicates that militants trained in Iraq have made their way to Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the help of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network.” According to “sources close to Afghan security forces in the eastern Khost Province” Arab trainers are busy on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan training Islamic militants. These sources also claim that the militants still “continue to enjoy a safe haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan” (Eurasianet.org, November 8).
Afghan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak agrees that the Taliban are getting military and financial support from outside the country. In a recent interview, Wardak alleged that the Taliban have acquired millions of dollars as well as new weapons to conduct subversive activities in Afghanistan. He added, “Arabs and nationals of other countries, including neighboring states, were carrying out Iraq-style suicide attacks in Afghanistan.” According to an official who did not want to be named, 22 suicide attackers are known to have entered the country in recent weeks (Cheragh, November 21).
The head of Afghanistan’s reconciliation commission, Sebghatullah Mojaddadi, elaborating on his recent comments about “foreign hands” in the Afghan insurgency, said, “The neighboring country [that] helped to create the fundamentalist Taliban in the early 1990s and elements in it were still providing militants with weapons to destroy us.” He said that those “foreign hands” were employing and equipping people to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
Mojaddadi, who is not known to mince his words, bluntly declared, “We have not seen any direct military interferences except from our Pakistani brothers.” He added that he wonders why the interferences continue. While Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf might not be directly involved in supporting the militants, other groups such as the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and religious schools were, he said. He alleged that some of the Taliban are coerced into insurgency by Pakistan, saying “Pakistan or its ISI has given them [militants] plans to implement in Afghanistan, provided them with weapons and facilities, and warned that if they do not do it they will be handed over to Americans as al-Qaeda” (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, November 13).
Fingers are being pointed at Pakistan from yet another direction. India, which views its rival nuclear power with suspicion in matters of Islamic militancy, accused Pakistan of “conspiring” with the Taliban in the abduction and killing of Border Road Organization driver Ramankutty Maniappan in Afghanistan. Mojaddadi said, “Pakistan’s aim was to create a rift in the cordial relations existing between India and Afghanistan.” The Indian driver was kidnapped on November 19 and three days later his body, its throat slit, was found dumped on a road. “The Taliban had executed the hostage in a most brutal manner and such acts posed a threat to the civilized world” (India Daily, M.K. Narayanan Media Release November 27).
While Pakistan may or may not be involved in the upswing of insurgency attacks in Afghanistan, foreign as well as local militants use its territory to train recruits. According to reports, the al-Qaeda hierarchy has appointed at least three Arab militants as regional commanders. An Iraqi, a Tunisian, and another Arab of undisclosed nationality are reportedly responsible for training Afghan and foreign militants to fight in Afghanistan (Tolo TV, November 12).
During more than two decades of war in Afghanistan, even during the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, no kidnapping or suicide operations were carried out by the Afghan resistance. Recent moves mimicking the war in Iraq, even as a sign of desperation, are an ominous development.