A suicide bombing Tuesday –the second such attack in the last four days – comes in a year of record Afghan deaths as a hitherto rare tactic in Afghanistan emerges as a primary tool of the Taliban insurgency.
The latest gruesome attack – killing at least 12 and injuring dozens – came at the beginning of the morning rush hour in Kabul, reports the British Broadcasting Corp. The victims included a mother and two of her children.
Tuesday's attack was carried out early in the morning on a bus carrying policemen to work in the western part of the city. However, the bus also contained the families of policemen, dropping their children to school. There were reports that as many as four of the dead were children.
Eyewitnesses said the bomber tried to get onto a bus picking up policemen.
Police already on the vehicle were suspicious and shot him, after which the injured bomber blew himself up, causing casualties both on the bus and in the street. The bomb ripped off the roof of the bus and blew out the sides.
The bombing was "the second suicide attack in four days against a bus carrying Afghan security forces," notes The New York Times. "The Taliban, through a spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack. On Saturday, the insurgency also claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a bus in Kabul packed with Afghan Army soldiers, which killed at least 30 people, including 28 soldiers, and 2 civilians."Another attack in the northeastern province of Kunar killed a soldier under American command, whose nationality remains unknown, and wounded three others on Tuesday.
The United Nations expressed outrage over the attack, Bloomberg reports. "We don't at this stage know the final numbers for dead and wounded, but it is clear this attack is among the worst that Kabul has seen," Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's Special Representative Tom Koenigs said in a statement on the UN's website.
This has been a "year of record violence," the Associated Press reported recently, using figures from a UN report, as well as its own tallies.
An Associated Press count of insurgency-related deaths this year is surpassing the 5,000 mark and a U.N. report finding that attacks have risen by 20 percent.
A new U.N. report found that while 76 percent of all suicide bombings in the country have targeted international and Afghan security forces, 143 civilians were killed by those bombs through August. The report, released in New York last week, also found that Afghanistan has averaged 550 violent incidents per month this year, up from 425 last year.
An AP count of insurgency-related deaths, meanwhile, reached 5,086 so far this year, the most deaths in Afghanistan since the invasion to topple the Taliban. The AP counted some 4,000 deaths in 2006, based on reports from Western and Afghan officials.
The AP tally counts more than 3,500 militants among the dead, but also more than 650 civilians killed either by militant violence or U.S. or NATO attacks. Almost 180 international soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year, including 85 Americans, a record pace. Last year, about 90 U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan.
McClatchy Newspapers last month reported that the UN assessment "sharply contrasts with recent upbeat appraisals by President Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai." The nature of the Taliban insurgency has changed significantly since 2006, relying less and less on conventional attacks and more on "suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, assassinations, intimidation, and abductions," it said.
The Taliban and associated groups have engaged in fewer large-scale clashes with foreign and Afghan forces because they suffered large numbers of casualties, including many mid-level and senior commanders, in conventional battles last year.
"Another reason must be the realization that these types of attacks are futile against a modern conventionally equipped military force supported by a wide range of air assets," said the report, which also noted improvements in the Afghan National Army.
The "real legacy" of Saturday's bombing in Kabul is likely to last much longer, reports the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
It is now apparent that the Taleban can strike anywhere in the capital. Residents of Kabul will be looking nervously over their shoulders as they go about their daily business, never sure when the next attack will come.
But the Afghan government seems as much at a loss as everyone else. Zahir Azimi, spokesperson for the defence ministry, limited himself to the usual platitudes about enemies of Islam and the nation.
Kabul residents were angry and bitter about the attack and its timing, reports IWPR. " 'Those who kill during Ramadan are not Muslims,' said Mohammad Saboor, 45."
Following Saturday's bombing, President Karzai offered peace talks – and even the possibility of cabinet posts – which were rejected by the Taliban, which said there could be no talks as long as foreign troops were in the country, reports Al Jazeera.
Officials say many of the suicide bombers come from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, said Radio Free Europe in a report on a "would-be bomber" now in hiding from the Taliban.
During the six months that have passed since Akhunzada went into hiding, he says four suicide attacks have been carried out in Helmand Province by men that he knew from the mountain training camp.
… Officials in Kabul say it is more common for suicide bombers and Taliban fighters to be recruited from among impressionable youths at madrasahs in Pakistan's border regions near Afghanistan.
In July, Afghan President Hamid Karzai pardoned a 14-year-old Pakistani boy who was caught wearing a suicide bomber's vest while riding a motorbike in the southeastern Afghan city of Khost. The boy's father says he lost contact with his son after he sent the boy to a madrasah in Pakistan to study the Koran.
Another would-be suicide bomber told RFE/RL that he felt trapped and helpless once he had been trained for a suicide mission.
Tuesday's suicide attacks had an unusually high number of civilian casualties. A large proportion of bombings over the last two years have targeted only military operations, and many bombers only succeeded in blowing themselves up, reported Jamestown Foundation analyst Brian Williams in the Asia Times recently.
In the spring of 2006, for example, 26 of the 36 suicide bombers in Afghanistan killed only themselves, ensuring average "bomber-to-victim" statistics far below that "of suicide bombers in other theaters of action in the area [Israel, Chechnya, Iraq, and the Kurdish areas of Turkey]," says Mr. Williams in the Asia Times. Part of the reason for this "uniquely Afghan phenomenon" lies in the Taliban's "unique targeting sets," he says, which are calculated to avoid turning Muslim civilians against it. But there is also evidence to suggest that many of the bombers are not professionals.
Nevertheless, interviews and field work conducted in Afghanistan for this study revealed considerable evidence that the "duped, bribed, brainwashed" paradigm applies to a growing percentage of the bombers being deployed in the Afghan theater. Afghan police told of numerous incidents where citizens in Kabul reported finding abandoned suicide vests in the city. They seemed to signify a last-minute change of heart in several would-be bombers.
There are many such examples of Afghan suicide bombers seemingly with a conscience or reluctance to inflict mass casualties. The possibility that a number of them are doing it simply for payments for their families might explain this.
Many Taliban bombers come from small backwater villages and have to be taught how to drive on strange roads, travel beyond their locale or country, and then hit fast-moving, armored coalition convoys with improvised explosives.
Even at the best of times, suicide bombing is a task that involves considerable resolve, determination, and focus, and a degree of intelligence. Clearly, such vital ingredients are often missing in the Afghan context, where many of the bombers appear to be as much victims as perpetrators.