Why hard targets?

© Hesco

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.


Candid car bombing

We were only joking...

Iraqi TV executives at channel Al Baghdadia  clearly have some odd ideas about commissioning new shows. According to the NYT At War blog, there is a show which has been running throughout Ramadan called ‘Put him in [Camp] Bucca’. The basic premise is that a celebrity is invited to the TV network’s offices for a meeting, but along the way someone plants a fake bomb in his/her car and he/she is then stopped at a fake security checkpoint. Much hilarity then ensues when the car is searched and the device discovered and hidden cameras record the celebrity’s (presumably shocked/horrified) reactions. An example of the dialouge:

Soldier : “Which group you are working for?”

Television Host: “Al Qaeda for sure.”

Guest: “I am an actor. What are you saying? Is this a game or what?”

Soldier: “This a military checkpoint. What do you think we are playing here? You have got a bomb in your car.”

Television Host: “Why are you doing this? Why are you putting me in such trouble?”

Guest: “I am a family man. I have two kids. How could I do this to my family? I am telling you the truth, it’s not me who planted the bomb.”

Hilarious I’m sure. Though I guess it still has more entertainment value than Big Brother.

Three suicide attacks in Baghdad

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This morning saw al-Qa’ida in Iraq continue its approach of using suicide vehicle bombs in coordinated spectaculars in Baghdad, this time targeting foreign embassies rather than hotels as seen in January. From the New York Times:

“An official in the Interior Ministry said there were three suicide bombers who had targeted the Iranian embassy as well as the residences of the Egyptian chargé d’affaires and the German ambassador, all in the Mansour District and nearby on the western side of the city. Officials said that at least 32 people were killed in all, with dozens more seriously wounded. Separately, a police official in Kerrada, a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, said that a fourth would-be suicide bomber targeted the offices of the government’s embassy protective services but policemen shot and wounded the driver before he could detonate his bomb. The police identified that suspect, who they claimed was on drugs, as an Iraqi — Ahmed Jassim, 17 — and said he had been driving a Kia minibus carrying one ton of explosives. Bomb disposal experts worked for several hours to defuse the bomb.”

Attacks in Pakistan, Iraq

Following on from yesterday’s assaults in Lahore and Kohat, there was another suicide VBIED attack on a police investigation agency building in Peshawar. Eleven were killed and 15 injured, including three police officers.

Initially it was reported that the attacker might have been a woman on a motorcycle.  However, police have apparently now retracted this claim and think the woman may have been an innocent bystander.

Police now believe a woman seen near the scene on a motorcycle was an innocent victim and had been a passenger on a motorcycle travelling behind the car bomb, reports the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad.

This would have been significant as it is virtually unheard of for women to mount suicide attacks in the region. The only such case I am aware of was in December 2007 when a woman tried to attack a military checkpoint in Peshawar.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, there was an attack in Tal Afar, near Mosul. A bomber detonated himself in a Sunni mosque. Apparently the atacker first shot the mosque’s imam and then blew himself up, killing eight and wounding 30. I suspect this will turn out to be another AQ in Iraq hit on someone who was opposing them locally. There appears to be a tendency for these attacks to occur during Friday prayers – presumably because it represents a fixed point in time and space when they can be sure the target will be present. I wonder if there is a religious element also?

Dual suicide bombings in Ramadi kill 23

Looks like an initial strike against a police station, followed up by a second attacker targeting responders and onlookers at the site of the first blast. From the BBC:

Three blasts have rocked the Iraqi city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing at least 23 people and wounding several others, police have told the BBC.

A car packed with explosives ploughed into a concrete wall at the police headquarters. A motorcycle bomb then went off among the crowd that gathered.

The third blast, an apparent car bomb, went off outside a hospital. A curfew has been imposed in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, which was once a centre of the Sunni insurgency.

Attack on Iraqi funeral

AP reports that Iraq has had its first suicide attack of the month, killing at least six and injuring 15 in an attack on a funeral being held for a member of the al-Daghaytha tribe. Reportedly:

The bomber detonated an explosive belt..inside a tent for mourners in the mostly Sunni area of Haditha, about 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.