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Sticky Bomb Attacks Send Wave of Fear Through Kabul

Villagers offer prayers over the coffin of Mohammad Yousuf Rasheed, executive director of the nongovernmental Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan, during his funeral, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2020.

An apparent rise in “sticky bomb” attacks against Afghan officials and other high-profile targets has some dreading car journeys in Kabul, with some activists saying the violence, conducted through fixing magnetic explosives to vehicles, is the latest tactic by militant groups to further destabilize the country.

At least one police officer was killed and two more were wounded Wednesday in an explosion caused by a bomb attached to their vehicle. A day earlier, a magnetic or sticky bomb explosion killed at least five people, including four doctors.

“Every time that I go out, I am worried that something might happen to me,” said Subhan Mesbah, the deputy head of the Lawyers Association of Afghanistan. “I have the fear that someone might attach a sticky bomb to my car or shoot me.”

The bombing in recent weeks has targeted politicians, security officials, human rights activists and journalists. Some officials say the tactic helps the attackers hurt high-profile Afghans without drawing much attention.

FILE - An Afghan security officer stands guard at the site of a bomb blast in Kabul, Dec. 15, 2020.
FILE - An Afghan security officer stands guard at the site of a bomb blast in Kabul, Dec. 15, 2020.

Mesbah, who regularly appears on media outlets as a political analyst, said he now takes precautionary measures such as inspecting his car before driving because he might be a target of violence for his public appearances.

“I take different routes and avoid the traffic in the city, but, like other members of the civil society, I cannot afford having armored vehicles or bodyguards for my protection. It is not possible,” he told VOA.

The government of Ashraf Ghani, he added, has failed to ensure the security of 4.3 million Kabul residents as the city seems to fall more into violence.

Rahmatullah Andar, a spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Security Council, however, defended his government as doing “its utmost” in dealing with the situation. He blamed the Taliban for targeting civilians to “inflict fear” and “use it as leverage in the peace talks.”

A second round of negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban is expected to start January 5. With both sides reaching an agreement on the rules of conduct for the talks, they are expected to work on a permanent cease-fire and political arrangement.

Taliban attacks

The progress in negotiations comes as the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in a statement Wednesday, warned about an increase in target killings “at a deeply disturbing rate.”

The U.N. body in its October report said that of the 525 civilian deaths and 1,175 injuries in the first three-quarters of this year, 29% of the casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices.

Taliban officials in recent weeks have openly said that they are behind the attacks against government officials. Meanwhile, they have denied any involvement in the assassination of journalists and activists.

Zabihullah Mujahid is a Taliban spokesperson.
Zabihullah Mujahid is a Taliban spokesperson.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, told Reuters on December 16 that the militant group was “directly attacking those people who are fighting against us either on the battlefield or those plotting against us from their government offices.”

Responding to Mujahid’s comments, Andar told VOA that the group was unleashing war against “anyone who dare to speak against them, whether they are human rights defenders, residents or parliamentarians.”

He said while Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) and al-Qaida also conduct similar attacks, the Taliban remain “the main perpetrator.”

He also said that as the group turns to sticky explosives, the international community would see large-scale attacks as a violation of an agreement made with the United States in February.

Intelligence performance

Colin Clarke is a senior fellow at the New York-based nonpartisan Soufan Center, which is dedicated to increasing awareness of global security issues. He says the Taliban continue to deny attacks that involve civilian casualties as a way to portray themselves as a “legitimate entity.”

The techniques used in the sticky bomb attacks indicate “it is most certainly the Taliban,” said Clarke, adding the attacks also demonstrate a lack of capacity of the Afghan forces who are “going to be totally outnumbered and outmaneuvered” if U.S. forces withdraw from the country.

The U.S. announced in October that it would reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 troops to 2,500 by January 15. The U.S. agreement with the Taliban on February 29 calls for a phased pullout of all U.S. forces by May 2021.

U.S. officials in the past have said that a complete withdrawal of the troops in Afghanistan is dependent on the Taliban meeting their main obligations under the agreement: cutting ties with al-Qaida and negotiating a political settlement with the Afghan government.

Easy to obtain and use

Abdul Waheed Taqat, a military analyst and former Afghan intelligence chief, told VOA that the use of sticky bombs gives insurgents an advantage because they are easy to obtain and use.

To prevent these unconventional attacks, Taqat said, Afghan intelligence agencies need to improve their coordinated efforts.

“Unfortunately, our intelligence agencies are not up to the task,” he said.