The Taliban continues to step up its use of suicide bombings, and today they got more successful than they desired. The bomber killed the militia commander the Taliban targeted, but they also killed scores of civilians, which has them rattled enough to hesitate in taking credit for the attack:
A suicide bombing at an outdoor dog fighting competition killed 80 people and wounded scores more Sunday, a governor said, in what appeared to be the deadliest terror attack in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
Officials said the attack apparently targeted a prominent militia commander who had stood up against the Taliban. He died in the attack.
Several hundred people — including Afghan militia leaders — had gathered to watch the event on the western edge of the southern city of Kandahar. Witnesses reported gunfire from bodyguards after the blast; it was not immediately clear if the bullets killed anyone….
Khalid blamed the bombing on the “enemy of Afghanistan” — an apparent reference to the Taliban. A Taliban spokesman said he didn’t immediately know if the militants were responsible. The Taliban often claim responsibility immediately after major attacks against police and army forces — often naming the bombers — but shy away from claiming attacks with high civilian casualties.
The Taliban began relying more on suicide attacks after the US changed tactics last winter to a much more aggressive posture. Taliban ambushes had been met with proportional force prior to that, and a few ill-considered truces had allowed the Taliban to seize control of significant positions. The new American-driven NATO tactics made every attempted Taliban ambush a debacle and stopped their 2007 spring offensive before it could get started.
The move to suicide attacks also coincides with a return to Pakistan by al-Qaeda, especially after getting chased out of Iraq. Pakistan has seen an increase in suicide attacks as well, most notoriously with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Afghanistan and Pakistan have become the center of jihadist ambitions now that the Iraqis and the US have mostly defeated AQI. Their influence on Taliban tactics and strategy is unmistakable, but it also signals that at least in Afghanistan, the Taliban have been completely frustrated as a military force.
Killing scores of civilians will play as well in Afghanistan as it does in Iraq, though. Small wonder the Taliban don’t want to take credit for the kill in this case. The Afghans already know what living under the Taliban was like, and the mass murders only remind them of why they don’t want a return of Mullah Omar’s rule.
Addendum: Dog fighting? My sympathies are with the Afghan people, but that’s terrible.