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Taliban turn to suicide attacks

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 3, 2006


Fourteen successive suicide bomb attacks have shaken this province in a way that nearly four years of guerrilla insurgency has not.

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Afghan officials say they have made strides in the last few days to shut down terror networks that launched these attacks, arresting 20 insurgents this week. But Taliban spokesmen say their suicide attacks, including a deadly bombing Wednesday in Khost Province, have only just begun.

"I confirm that there are 200 to 250 fidayeen [dedicated soldiers] who are prepared to carry out suicide attacks, and the number is increasing day by day," says Dr. Mohammad Hanif, a Taliban spokesman, speaking to the Monitor by telephone.

While it is impossible to verify such claims, the use of suicide bombers has already given the Taliban a renewed visibility. Once deemed unacceptable in Afghan culture, suicide attacks have become common this winter, including the Jan. 15 assassination of Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry in Kandahar and an attack the following day that killed 23 Afghans in the border town of Spin Boldak. The suicide attacks have had a devastating effect on the morale of Afghans, and have begun to force foreign aid workers to change the way they deliver aid in the southern part of the country.

"The Taliban have been doing a lot of guerrilla attacks in the last year, but they didn't get any credit for that; it didn't create enough instability," says Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi, a former Taliban commander who threw his support behind the Karzai government last year after being released from Afghan prison. "Now, with the suicide attacks, they have added a lot of instability and nervousness and anxiety to the people and the government, and now their name is bigger than it was before."

"But to me, it just shows the Taliban's weakness," says Mullah Rocketi, who earned his nickname during the Russian war for his ability to shoot down helicopters with rockets. "They couldn't do frontal assault. They couldn't do guerrilla attacks. All they can do is suicide attacks, and kill more of their own people."

Whether out of weakness or strength, the tactic has changed daily life. The streets of Kandahar, while still bustling with trade, have checkposts on nearly every other block, as police and national Army troops check vehicles for suspicious packages.

Police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the key trouble signs are cars that have had seats removed to make room for large bundles. But several of the most recent arrests have come from tip-offs, including vehicle descriptions and license-plate numbers. Yet even police admit they don't have the manpower to check every vehicle; the only way to stop the suicide attacks is if more Afghans come forward to cooperate with police when they see suspicious activity.

The suicide attacks have set off debate over where the suicide bombers come from. The Taliban claim that all of their 250 suicide bombers are Afghans, a sign of local support. Afghan officials insist that the bulk of the attacks have been conducted by foreigners, as evidenced by recent arrests that have included non-Pashtun Pakistanis.

"It is obvious that the Taliban have some secret places here, they have professional people who help them fix the wires and assemble the bombs," says Gen. Rahmatullah Raufi, the corps commander of Afghan National Army in Kandahar. "The explosives come from Pakistan, and the drivers come from Pakistan and foreign countries. It is very difficult for an Afghan to persuade himself to commit suicide."