In another example of what I was discussing in this post, Afghan insurgents tried for the second time in three days to attack a fortified US military installation. In today’s incident, a vehicle (presumably a VBIED, the reports don’t specify yet; correction – this report quotes a NATO spokesman who says it was a SVBIED) accompanied by four men armed with rifles and wearing suicide vests tried to breach the perimeter at Forward Operation Base (FOB) Gardez in Paktya province. According to NATO media, the base’s defenders spotted the attackers and engaged them, destroying the vehicle and killing five insurgents. One was reportedly captured. Two Afghan security guard guards were injured and one local civilian employee was killed (it is not clear from the reporting whether the employee was inside the base at the time). The US DoD’s news service suggests that these attackers were part of a larger force of some 20 other insurgents.
I’ve been giving some thought to hard targets, as in why do insurgent/terrorist groups attack targets that have some sort of active/passive defences which would hinder the successful execution of a (suicide) attack. Such targets would include:
- military/security installations (FOB/COPs in Afghanistan)
- diplomatic/political sites (embassies in Kabul)
- major international hotels (such as the Marriott in Islamabad, Jakarta)
- mobile military/security force patrols (armed, possibly armoured, with a degree of situational awareness)
- airports (think Glasgow)
Now some of these are going to be considerably harder than others – launching an attack on a US Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan or Iraq is a pretty difficult proposition (for example, see the result of this recent failed attack). Given Western forces’ preponderance of surveillance assets and firepower there’s a fairly high probability the attackers are going to be wiped out before they manage to get close enough to do any serious damage. Of course this might be context dependent – attacks on Afghan police sites or Pakistani military compounds may well have a different outcome.
However, despite this insurgents/militants/terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have undertaken these types of attacks fairly regularly. What I’m interested in exploring is the rationale for doing so when there are lots of potentially softer targets that could be attacked with a greater degree of confidence in a successful outcome. So far this is what (from reading various sources) I’ve come up with:
- desire to mount spectaculars which will gain greater media attention and create the impression of a worsening security situation;
- creation of recruitment propaganda;
- undermine the credibility of the security forces and the state by taking them on directly;
- contesting ground in areas the insurgents wish to use as safe havens or liberated zones;
- demonstration of organizational capability and prowess;
- elimination of a threat to the organization;
- intimidation of members of the political/diplomatic communities;
I’d be very interested if anybody else has any other ideas or views on any of the above. What other potential motivations would cause a group to expend a good deal of resource and effort on attacking a hard target? Let me know in the comments section.
- “Taliban attack NATO bases in Afghanistan” and related posts (defencetalk.com)
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=kandahar&iid=9651293″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9651293/soldiers-investigate-the/soldiers-investigate-the.jpg?size=500&imageId=9651293″ width=”234″ height=”229″ /]An interesting little snippet from Afghanistan. This sort of ‘come on’ trap is pretty common (PIRA used them a lot in Ulster), but not sure I’ve heard of one using a suicide attacker laying in wait before. Presumably the white clothing referred to were martyr’s robes.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Afghan policeman shouldered his rocket-propelled grenade launcher one day in the first week of September and pointed it toward the police truck, a blue Ford Ranger pickup, and fired.
It was an easy shot, but the grenade missed, exploding in a tree nearby. A figure in a white robe fell out of the tree and the policemen ran, yelling they had seen a ghost.
The ghost promptly exploded; he was a suicide bomber, a human booby trap waiting for them to approach the police truck.
The truck had been stolen by a rogue policeman, after he drugged the dinner of seven of his comrades and then assassinated them while they were unconscious on Aug. 17. The Taliban later claimed the policeman was an insurgent agent. The truck had just been found during a clearing operation that had chased the Taliban from the District 6 neighborhood of the city and the adjoining suburban community of Mehlajat.
Lt. Col. John Voorhees recounts that story with a rueful laugh, both for what it says about the training of the Afghan police, and the ruthless nature of the fight now going on in neighborhoods and districts around Kandahar. Colonel Voorhees commands the U.S. Army’s 504th Military Police Battalion, responsible for security in Kandahar City. ‘I’ve found that the stranger the story in Afghanistan, the more likely it is to be true,’ says Capt. Bradley Rudy, one of his task force’s company commanders.
‘Afterwards we found a human jawbone,’ the colonel adds. ’ ‘See,’ we said, ‘it wasn’t a ghost.’
(Via .) At War blog, New York Times
One of the hardest things about researching suicide attacks is getting hold of detailed reporting and analysis of how attacks are undertaken. High-profile incidents such as 9/11 or 7/7 are of course awash with detail, due to the official and media manpower thrown at them, but the daily grind of attacks in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are hard to pin down in any great detail.
Which is why this is so interesting. A report from a private security contractor in Afghanistan, detailing the 5 May suicide assault by nine (probable) Taliban attackers on a government compound in Zaranj, Afghanistan.
Such complex assaults have become an increasing part of the Afghan insurgency’s tactical repertoire. From an abstract perspective such attacks are interesting because they represent an evolution of the suicide bombing tactic in that they:
1. involve the use and coordination of multiple attackers against a specific target. In this instance nine attackers were employed in two vehicles, dismounting outside the target compound.
2. are relatively discriminating; it appears that in this instance the intended targets were members of the provincial council and the governor. Note the comment in the linked post that when moving through the adjacent compounds to get to their target, the attackers did not fire upon their occupants.
3. involve the use of firearms and other munitions in addition to the employment of suicide explosive vests. This requires at least a degree of additional training and practice (though as FRI notes, in this instance the attackers’ weapon handling was pretty poor – something that has been noted about Taliban insurgents more widely). Reportedly one of the vehicles was also a VBIED but the driver was unable to reach his target and disengaged.
This is some way from one Palestinian teenager blowing him/herself up in a Tel Aviv pizza restaurant, and would have required a degree of planning and reconnaissance as well as the logistic effort needed to muster such a force.
I’ve noted before the phenomenon of attackers detonating themselves without any prospect of killing the ‘other’ – either as human demolition charges or against infrastructure targets. This incident is an excellent example of such tactics, with the attackers gradually whittling away their numbers in an attempt to breach a series of defensive obstacles.
While such attacks do indicate an impressive degree of resource on the part of the Taliban, i.e. the ability to field nine suicide attackers simultaneously and to sacrifice them in such a way (rather than, say, using them individually in separate attacks). Also, their devices all appeared to have functioned and there is little doubt that the attackers were well motivated.
However, as the FRI report notes, their reconnaissance was lacking (their approach route had been blocked by new roadworks) and when they were unable to proceed to their objective, they simply blew themselves up in a futile effort to breach a wall. There is little to suggest that the attackers were able to adapt their plan when it began to go wrong.
This is a fairly typical outcome for such assaults in Afghanistan – the guard force tends to kill the majority of attackers before they even get to within striking range of their objectives. Which does somewhat beg the question why do the Taliban keep committing such significant resources to normally unsuccessful attacks? (In this instance nine attackers died in return for the deaths of one provincial council member, two policemen and a civilian). Perhaps the answer lies in the ‘propaganda of the deed’ concept – it does not matter all that much that the attack was largely a failure; the value lies in the fact that they were willing and able to attempt it in the first place. It shows that the Afghan government cannot even protect its own offices and compounds, much less the population.
An interesting little story from AFP, about ‘Hameed’, a 25-year-old Afghan ‘reformed’ suicide bomber. He was apparently recruited by his uncle, a member of the Taliban, and was trained to assassinate the Chief of Police in Wardak province. The details of the training he received are pretty familiar. He was sent to a madrassa near Peshawar and
“soon after I arrived that I was told for the first time that I was going to be trained for a suicide bombing mission. I was assigned to attack the Wardak police chief, General Abdul Yameen Muzafaruddin”. He and about 15 other Afghans were trained in how to put on suicide vests, how to choose the target and how to stay calm.
But Hameen had a change of heart and decided not to become a bomber, contacted his other uncle who was a police commander (family get-togethers must be interesting) who extracted him and presented Hameen to his intended target. Hameen recited the plan and handed over his explosives vest.
The former bomber is now a police officer working for the man he was trained to assassinate. Quite the turnaround, but I’d not like to be sitting next to him in the patrol car. This is the first instance I’ve come across of a failed suicide attacker being turned in such a way – if anyone has other examples I’d be very interested to hear about them.
It looks like the Indian embassy in Kabul has been hit again. The BBC reports that a suicide attack (probably a VBIED but not yet confirmed) occurred at 03:53 GMT this morning, killing at least seven and injuring more than 60 – apparently all civilian bystanders. AP suggests that the casualties are higher, with 12 dead and 84 wounded. Indian’s Foreign Minister has confirmed it was a suicide attack, saying:
“I believe the suicide bomb was directed at the embassy since the suicide bomber came up to the outer perimeter wall of the embassy in a car loaded with explosives.”
The building was targeted in June 2008 by another suicide VBIED. Forty-one people died in that attack, including senior embassy staff who had been in vehicles near the embassy gate (and may have been the primary targets of the attack).
Presumably this attack will also be attributed by some to the ISI or the Taliban acting at their behest. Since the fall of the Taliban, India has been making consistent efforts to develop a meaningful presence in Afghanistan, something that is anathema to arch-rival Pakistan.
Anthony Lloyd, a British war correspondent who has also written some pretty good books (My War Gone By and Another Bloody Love Letter), has a searing article in The Times this week, describing the experiences of a the British 2 Rifles battlegroup in Helmand.
“In April this year it became 2 Rifles’ dubious fortune to be sent to Sangin on a six-month tour. By mid-August their battle group, a composite force from various units built around a core of several hundred riflemen and fusiliers, had the worst casualties of any British brigade sent to Helmand, with just over 100 soldiers killed or wounded: a fifth of their total patrol troops”
Note that – a 20 per cent casualty rate. Not strictly related to the main topic at hand, but well worth a read.