Taliban Using Iraq Insurgency Tactics in Afghanistan
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The methods of Iraq's insurgency are now being adopted by the Taliban in Afghanistan, as NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Kabul.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
Lieutenant Colonel Golan Kohestani(ph) has been a soldier for 18 years, spending most of that time at war. But he had never before seen a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan until last September in this parking lot outside the training center for the Afghan National Army in Kabul. That afternoon Kohestani and more than a hundred of his fellow officers were boarding buses when a man on a motorcycle pulled up and began revving his engine.
Lt. Colonel GOLUM KOHESTANI (Afghan National Army): (Through translator) He was standing two meters from me. I didn't see his face. But 30 seconds after that, I got on the bus and its wave through me ten meters away.
WATSON: The motorcycle and rider were packed with explosives. The blast killed nine officers and wounded 39 more, including Kohestani. The veteran is convinced the bomber had foreign training.
Lt. Colonel KOHESTANI: (Through translator) Yes, certainly they learned from a school, maybe in Neprok(ph) or maybe somewhere else, to perform these types of suicide attacks.
Mr. SAM ZARIFI (Human Rights Watch): We've seen this new, very unfortunate development of suicide bombing in Afghanistan, something that had almost never happened before. We have something like 30 cases just over the last year.
WATSON: Sam Zarifi heads the Kabul Office of the organization Human Rights Watch. He spoke from Washington, where he was invited to brief the State Department and the Pentagon last week.
Zarifi says he's seen more activity than ever this winter from the resurgent Taliban movement in Southern Afghanistan.
Mr. ZARIFI: One of the most alarming things this year has been that in fact the attacks have been continuing and to some extent even increasing over the last couple of months.
WATSON: Colonel Jim Yontz, the spokesman for the United States military in Afghanistan, disagrees with observers who say the Taliban has gotten stronger this winter.
Colonel JIM YONTZ (U.S. Military Spokesman): We don't see that they're more capable or stronger than before. But they have shifted their tactics and it's now targeted against the Afghan people.
WATSON: In addition to resorting to suicide bombs, the Taliban has also begun to go after new, softer targets, burning dozens of schools and assassinating local government employees.
Again, Human Rights Watch's Sam Zarifi.
Mr. ZARIFI: It is clear that schools and other soft targets, government clerks, are being targeted as part of a strategy of forcing the government out of the smaller, rural districts.
WATSON: Not all of the violence is purely Taliban related. Powerful drug mafias periodically clash with Afghan troops and police, as do local tribal leaders who have grown frustrated by the lack of reconstruction and development in the provinces, four years after President Hamid Karzai took office.
Abdul Salam Rocketi says the Taliban has been taking advantage of growing frustration in the countryside.
Mr. ADBUL SALAM ROCKETI (Former Taliban Commander): (Through translator) If it keeps going like this, or if the government does not have success, then people will come away from the government and the support for the enemies of the government will become more.
WATSON: Named for his skill in past wars at firing rockets, Rocketi is a former Taliban commander who made peace with the Afghan government and was recently elected to Parliament. He has offered to lead negotiations with his former colleagues in the Taliban, but the barrel-chested commander has repeatedly been threatened, and last week two of his brothers died in a mysterious explosion.
Recently the U.S. military announced it would withdraw at least 2,500 American troops from Southern Afghanistan. They will be replaced by NATO Peacekeepers from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.
While she is pleased with the expansion of NATO forces here, Joanna Nathan, of the International Crisis Group, thinks now is not the time to pull out American forces.
Ms. JOANNA NATHAN (International Crisis Group): Really, this has been already sold by insurgents as sort of some victory by them. Look, you know, we've managed to beat the mighty United States. So this is a real fear, if they withdraw, that this is seen as a propaganda victory.
WATSON: In a recent statement to the Reuters News Agency, a Taliban spokesman warned that his men would continue to use suicide bombings against their enemies. This, he added, is part of our military strategy.
Ivan Watson, NPR News, Kabul.