Suicide bombings by Taliban are up sharply this year

The Baltimore Sun

KHOST, Afghanistan -- Taliban insurgents carried out 103 suicide bombings in Afghanistan in the first eight months of this year, a 69 percent increase over the same period last year, according to a U.N. report that is expected to be issued publicly tomorrow.

The record number of attacks killed more than 200 people, 80 percent of them civilians.

The report also found no evidence that suicide bombing technology was migrating from Iraq to Afghanistan, a major fear of Afghan and U.S. officials.

Still, the statistics showed that Afghanistan endured the world's second-highest number of suicide attacks in 2006 and so far in 2007, according to Mohammed Hafiz, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, who tracks suicide bombings.

Afghanistan trails only Iraq, where 290 suicide bombings were carried out from January through late July, he said. By comparison, suicide bombings in Israel peaked at 60 in 2002, according to an Israeli study.

Suicide attacks in Afghanistan have increased significantly since 2005, when there were 17 attacks, the report said. The number jumped to 123 in 2006, it said.

The report found that many suicide bombers are Afghan nationals who come from religious schools in Pakistan, where they have been living as refugees.

The report also said that suicide bombers receive support from networks inside Afghanistan.

"The cross-border dimension is undeniable; so is the Afghan element," said C. Christine Fair, a U.N. official in Kabul who oversaw the preparation of the report. "There have been bomb factories here."

Fair said that unlike suicide bombers in Iraq, where the vast majority of bombers are highly motivated and relatively well-educated foreigners, most suicide bombers in Afghanistan seem to be poor and uneducated Afghans, according to interviews with bombers captured before carrying out their attacks.

In addition, the Taliban have generally attacked Afghan and international security forces and government officials, rather than large crowds of civilians. In Iraq, Sunni Muslim insurgents have set off huge truck and car bombs in crowded and predominantly Shiite Muslim markets, in an effort to increase sectarian tensions.

The report also noted that unlike in other countries, few "martyrdom tapes" have appeared in Afghanistan. Such tapes show bombers articulating their reasons for an attack before they carry it out.

Fair said it was impossible to discern why there were so few tapes left by the bombers. One reason could be that Afghans continue to condemn suicide bombing, she said.

One former Taliban commander who had been interviewed said that almost all the bombers go through some form of recruitment and preparation in the schools in Pakistan.

Former Taliban commanders said that 80 percent of the group's suicide bombers then pass through training facilities or safe houses in North and South Waziristan, two tribal areas in Pakistan that are militant strongholds.


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