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Taliban answer US-Afghan security pact with suicide bombing in Kabul (+video)

The Taliban attacked two Afghan Army buses in the capital today, killing at least seven. On Tuesday, the US and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani agreed to allow US and NATO forces to remain in the country beyond 2014.

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    Afghan National Army soldiers (ANA) arrive at the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul Oct. 1, 2014. Two Taliban suicide bombers attacked the Afghan capital on Wednesday, a day after the new government and the United States signed a long-delayed security agreement.
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Taliban suicide bombers killed at least seven and injured more in Kabul today, in retaliation for the signing of a security pact yesterday between Afghanistan’s new government and the United States. 

“The slave government of Afghanistan signed an agreement with America yesterday that will boost the morale of our mujahedeen fighters,” the Taliban said in a statement claiming responsibility for the strikes, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The attacks – which follow a string of assaults over the summer – underscore the resiliency of the Taliban insurgence 13 years after the US first invaded to topple the group that sheltered Osama bin Laden. At his inauguration Monday, new President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to join peace talks.

The suicide bombers targeted two buses carrying Afghan soldiers in the capital early Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

The first attacker hit a bus with Afghan National Army officers in west Kabul, killing seven and wounding 15, said the city's criminal investigation police chief Mohammad Farid Afzali.

The second attacker, who was also on foot, blew himself up in front of a bus in northeastern Kabul, wounding at least six army personnel, Afzali said.

The security pacts signed yesterday between the US, Afghanistan, and NATO will allow a force of up to about 10,000 US troops and several thousand NATO troops to remain in the country after the end of the year.

The role of foreign troops will be focused on training Afghan forces and on counterterrorism. Afghan troops have already taken over almost all combat operations, but, the Economist reports, “Morale is low these days,” with Afghan forces expecting their numbers to drop from 350,000 to about 228,000 due to a lack of international funding. 

Unsurprisingly, job insecurity doesn’t help the fighting spirit. Neither do widespread delays in the payment of their monthly salaries, which amount to a meager $200 per police officer.” 

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 8,615 civilian deaths and injuries in 2013, a 14 percent increase over 2012 and the highest tally since it started keeping records in 2009, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) writes.

UNAMA attributed the vast majority of these casualties to insurgents who deliberately targeted civilians or used such indiscriminate tactics as improvised explosive devices; other civilians were caught in the crossfire between insurgents and government forces.”

The Taliban’s reach has extended in several districts throughout Afghanistan, CFR reports:

In some outlying districts, Afghan forces and local insurgents have reached informal ceasefires that effectively cede a degree of authority to the Taliban. The UN reported in 2014 that the Taliban maintained outright control of four districts, out of 373 nationwide, but the insurgency's reach extends much further: Afghan security forces judged in late 2013 that some 40 percent of districts had a "raised" or "high" threat level. 

Boosting the Taliban’s financial position is robust opium production, which is now at an all-time high and continues to be a major source of Taliban funding, the Economist notes.

Still, the Taliban was unable to succeed in mass disruption of the 2014 elections, “one of its chief strategic objectives,” the Council on Foreign Relations notes.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi writes that the “more intangible role” of the security pact signed between the US and Afghanistan on Tuesday is the message it sends about ongoing international engagement with Afghanistan. 

Under the agreement, the US forces will be limited to two functions: continued training of Afghan security forces and counterterrorism activities.

But that short “to do” list does not hint at the more intangible role of the agreement as a confidence builder for key groups of Afghan society – from the women and girls who are participating in the economy and politics and going to school in greater numbers to a budding entrepreneurial class and a young class of military officers. Their fear? A US departure would mean the international community was about to abandon Afghanistan.

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