Afghan Bombings Undermine Taliban

Posted: Dec 08, 2011 12:01 AM

Tactical Analyst Ben West discusses the characteristics and significance of the Dec. 6 attacks in Afghanistan.


Today’s bombings in Afghanistan targeting Shiites have been condemned by the Taliban. Meanwhile, a Pakistani militant group has claimed them. These attacks pose a challenge to the Taliban and undermine their claim of control.

Three bombings across Afghanistan have targeted Shiites celebrating Ashura. Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (also known as LeJ) has claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul that killed 55 people. Smaller attacks in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar appear to be linked due to their similar timing and targeting. Sectarian violence like this is rare in Afghanistan. LeJ has been highly involved in attacks against Shiites in Pakistan, but has not engaged in high profile militant attacks in Afghanistan.

In Kabul, a man wearing a suicide vest maneuvered his way into a group of Shiites waiting to enter a shrine. The resulting explosion has killed at least 55 people and injured over 100 more. In Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar, bombs planted on a bicycle and motorbike, respectively, targeted processions of Shia on the streets. These attacks were far less deadly though — four were killed in Mazar-i-Sharif, while nobody was killed in Kandahar. The similar timing and targeting of the three attacks strongly suggests coordination between the attackers. So even though LeJ did not claim responsibility for the attacks outside of Kabul, it is very likely that they were responsible for these coordinated attacks.

High profile sectarian attacks like these are rare in Afghanistan. The Taliban has focused its effort on NATO forces and Afghan government officials in collusion with them. Inciting more violence by attacking Afghanistan’s Shiite minority does not fit into their strategy. In Pakistan however, the opposite is true. Extremist groups have long adopted sectarian violence as a tactic in trying to destabilize the government.

It is not surprising then that the Taliban has condemned these attacks while a Pakistani militant group has claimed them. LeJ has engaged in numerous sectarian attacks across Pakistan. For example, just in September, LeJ claimed responsibility for an armed assault on a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims in Quetta, Pakistan. In a similar attack earlier in July, gunmen killed 11 Shiites travelling in a van in Quetta. The LeJ promptly claimed responsibility for it as well.

However, it is significant that LeJ appears to be moving its attacks across the border into Afghanistan. Pakistani militant groups are known to support the Taliban by providing things such as fighters, supplies, training and even conducting the occasional attack. But these attacks today do not support the Taliban’s goal of forcing foreign military presence out of the country and assuming control.

Today’s attacks work against the Taliban strategy and highlight a breach in Taliban control over the various militant groups active in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, militant groups are trying to weaken the government by causing insecurity, but in Afghanistan, the Taliban is trying to prove that it is the more competent governing force – and that means providing security. The fact that the LeJ was able to establish a presence in these areas and conduct these attacks undermines the Taliban’s governing capability. The Taliban has verbally condemned the attacks, but we are watching for more direct retaliation from the Taliban in an effort for them to prove they can control these areas and punish those who trespass.

Read more: Dispatch: Afghanistan Bombings Undermine Taliban | STRATFOR