IN THIS ISSUE:
- Over 246 killed or injured in terrorist attacks.
- Five aid workers kidnapped.
- More than 130 die in flash floods and avalanches.
- Concern over accelerated rate of return from Pakistan and Iran.
- NATO Foreign Ministers review the situation in Afghanistan.
- New political bloc formed.
After a period in which international forces were the primary targets of terrorist attacks, there would now appear to be a pattern in which violence, or the threat of violence, is being used to intimidate those who are deemed to be cooperating with the state-building process or with international forces. It is largely Afghans who are being targeted and they include those working in the Afghan National Army (ANA), in the police, as security guards or as support staff for, for example, the aid community or international journalists. In addition, the population is being warned, through a resort to violence, not to pass information on to international forces. A further pattern is an evident willingness to draw on methods of violence which are especially brutal.
Police and intelligence officials have been particularly targeted. The specific incidents include the following:
- On 1st April, it was reported that seven policemen had been killed, and four injured, in an ambush near Spin Boldak the previous night.
- On 2nd April, three policemen were killed when their checkpoint was attacked on the road linking Kandahar with Spin Boldak.
- On 9th April, a policeman was killed when a police vehicle was opened fire on in Kandahar, sparking a gun battle in which one of the attackers was also killed.
- On 14th April, at least eight people were killed and more than ten were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up, on being stopped, as he attempted to enter a police station in the eastern province of Khost. Most, if not all, of the casualties were policemen.
- On 16th April, ten policemen were killed and at least ten were injured when a suicide bomber ran up to a group of police, exercising at a training ground in the northern city of Kunduz, and detonated his explosives.
- On 22nd April, four security officials were killed when their car was hit in a roadside bomb explosion in the eastern province of Laghman.
- On 23rd April, six other intelligence officials, based in Nangarhar, were also killed in Laghman, by another roadside bomb. A further four were wounded.
- On the same day, two police officers were killed by a roadside bomb in the southern province of Zabul. Five others were injured.
- Also on the same day, the decapitated body of an intelligence official was found in the southern province of Ghazni. He had been picked up from his home the previous evening to attend a dinner.
- On 24th April, three policemen were killed and another four were wounded when their vehicle was ambushed in the western province of Herat. The police had been guarding a hydro-electric dam under construction.
- On 25th April, four policemen were killed when their convoy was attacked in the southern province of Uruzgan.
- On 27th April, a policeman responsible for criminal investigations was assassinated as he was driving in the eastern province of Khost. A relative in the car was also killed, while the driver was wounded.
The specific attacks on the ANA include the following:
- On 1st April, seven people, three of them children, were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into an ANA convoy in Mehterlam, the provincial capital of Laghman Province, to the east of Kabul. Two of those killed were soldiers. A further six civilians and soldiers were wounded. The convoy was returning from a district where it had been helping flood victims.
- On 9th April, two soldiers were killed and four were seriously injured when an ANA convoy was attacked near Qalat, in the southern province of Zabul, when travelling on the Kabul to Kandahar highway.
- On 10th April, four soldiers were killed and 19 were injured when another ANA convoy was ambushed in the same province, as they returned to their base.
- On 25th April, seven soldiers from the ANA were killed when a remote-controlled bomb exploded under their convoy in Waza Khaw District, in the south-eastern province of Paktika.
Security guards have been targeted through the following attacks:
- On 15th April, four Afghan employees of a US security firm, USPI, were killed in Spin Boldak, when a suicide bomber on a motor cycle blew himself up as their convoy was passing.
- On 17th April, five UN employees were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in the southern province of Kandahar. One of them was an Afghan national. The other four were Nepalese, employed as security guards.
- On 25th April, three guards employed by a road construction company were killed in a six hour battle which followed an attack on a construction site in Ghazni Province, near the Kabul to Kandahar highway.
Security guards were also involved in an incident, on 7th April, in which seven people were killed and four wounded. A convoy of de-miners and guards attached to a US-based de-mining company, Ronco Consulting Corp., was ambushed as it travelled through a populated area, in the western province of Farah, on the Kandahar to Herat highway. Three of the casualties, all of whom were Afghan, were women caught in the crossfire.
Kidnapping is becoming more frequent as a political weapon. On 3rd April, five staff of a French non-governmental organisation, Terre d'Enfance, were kidnapped in Khash Rud District, in the south-western province of Nimroz, when travelling north to Farah Province. Three of the staff are Afghan nationals and two are French. In a statement posted on a website, on 20th April, the Taliban, who had already claimed to have taken the five, called on France to withdraw its 1,100 troops from Afghanistan and on the Afghan Government to release specific Taliban prisoners. They threatened that the aid workers would be killed if their demands were not met within a week.
As the deadline approached, the French presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, stated, on 26th April, that the "long-term presence of French troops in Afghanistan did "not look definitive to him", adding that, if he was elected, he would consider pulling French troops out of Afghanistan. The French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, spoke in a similar vein when he commented, on 27th April, that France had no intention of playing a long-term military role in Afghanistan, stating: "We have no vocation to stay, occupying a country in the long-term. Moreover, it is against France's values of respecting sovereignty, national independence and territorial integrity". He noted that France had already withdrawn 200 special forces troops before the hostage crisis. On 28th April, the Taliban released one of the French aid workers, stating: "We have given her a letter to carry to the French Government. And we have issued a seven-day ultimatum because of the French election [on May 6]. We will decide what to do after the election. We want to see the stance of the French Government."
The Taliban continue to hold a five person Afghan Government medical team taken in Kandahar on 27th March and are demanding the release, from prison, of Taliban prisoners in return. On 9th April, the Taliban warned that they would kill one of the team unless the Government opened talks with them. As a result of the abduction, the 50,000 residents of the Zhare Dasht camp for internally displaced people, to the west of Kandahar, are no longer receiving medical care.
President Karzai has ruled out the possibility of any future exchange of kidnap victims for prisoners, stating that the release of prisoners in exchange for an Italian journalist in March was undertaken in response to an "extraordinary" situation, in which the Italian Government was at risk of collapse over the kidnapping. The Taliban announced, on 8th April, that they had killed the second of two Afghan facilitators who were working with the journalist. He had had his throat slit. The first was beheaded in early March.
If these killings were intended to discourage Afghans from working with international journalists, the hanging of three men, accused of being spies, from trees in Musa Qala, in the southern province of Helmand, on 1st April was clearly aimed to provide an unequivocal warning to the population that they should not cooperate with the international military. This followed the death, in an air strike, of a Taliban commander.
The Taliban claimed that the accused men had reported the commander's location to the British forces attached to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the province.
Teachers and pupils continue to be targeted as part of the ongoing effort to discourage attendance at schools operated by the Afghan Government. The specific incidents include the following:
- On 15th April, a head teacher was killed in the Gorboz District of Khost.
- On 17th April, the principal of a girls' school in the same province was shot dead as he headed to the mosque for his morning prayers.
- On the same day, two students were killed and four were wounded in an explosion in a school compound in the western city of Herat.
It is not clear whether a suicide attack in Kabul, on 6th April, was aimed at a specific target or whether it was intended to demonstrate the capacity of those engaged in the insurgency to undertake such attacks in the capital. Five civilians and a police officer were killed, and at least four people were injured, when the suicide bomber, in a taxi, detonated his explosives as police, suspicious of the vehicle, tried to stop it and open the door. The incident took place near the parliament building.
It is also not clear what the purpose was of two major attacks in Khost on 22nd April. In the first of these, seven people were killed, and many more were wounded, in a bomb explosion, in a mobile telephone shop, in a crowded produce market. An hour later, at least three more were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a meat market, in the vicinity of the earlier explosion, when being chased by the police. Six more victims were reported, by the Director of Public Health, to have died subsequently in hospital. A further 40 were said to be injured, four of them critically.
Notwithstanding the apparent move away from attacks on international forces, seven civilians were injured, on 11th April, when a suicide car bomber hit a NATO convoy to the west of Kandahar.