GAYETI SINGH | 1 MAY, 2018
US-Afghan shaky partnership
NEW DELHI: Multiple suicide bombings in Afghanistan have left dozens dead, indicating a rapidly deteriorating security situation in the conflict-ridden country. Coordinated suicide bomb attacks near the Afghan intelligence agency building in Kabul killed at least 25 and wounded dozens more.
The first explosion took place outside the National Security Directorate, and as reporters rushed to cover the attack, a second suicide bomber on foot struck. The attacker was disguised as a cameraman, and clearly intended to target those rushing to the scene. Of the 25 people killed, nine were journalists.
The sequence of events suggest that reporters were a clear target, and is one of the worst attacks on journalists in Afghanistan.
In a separate attack in Kandahar, 11 schoolchildren were killed and 16 injured in a suicide attack. The attacker drove a truck into a NATO convoy. The children killed were students at a local madrassa.
The Islamic State immediately claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack. At the time of writing, no one has come forward to claim the Kandahar attack. It is worth noting the Islamic State remains a fringe outfit in Afghanistan, with the Taliban being the major militant outfit that has wrestled power from the Afghan government in large parts of the country. The Taliban in fact recently announced the beginning of their annual spring offensive, when better weather enables increased attacks.
The Taliban spokesperson said last week that the spring offensive will target "mainly focused on crushing, killing, and capturing American invaders,” adding that the Americans' "internal supporters" -- the Afghan government and troops -- are considered secondary priorities.
The latest attacks come amid a wave of increased attacks across Afghanistan, with April seeing intense violence. In just the last week of April, at least 11 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed on April 24 in separate Taliban attacks in Farah and Ghazni provinces; Taliban militants attacks in western Afghanistan killed 18 soldiers and police officers on April 23; a suicide bombing in Kabul claimed by the Islamic State extremist group killed 60 people on April 22. Monday’s attacks in Kabul and Kandahar are the latest in what is now almost daily violence.
Seperately, BBC reporter Ahmad Shah was also killed on Monday, in Afghanistan's Khost. Shah was shot by unidentified gunmen.
The Kabul attack has received widespread international attention as it represents the worst attack on journalists in the country since US-led invasion in 2001.
The journalists killed include Shah Marai, a photographer for Agence France Press (AFP), Mahram Durani, a correspondent with Radio Free Europe and Ebadullah Hananzai, a reporter with the same agency, Yar Mohammad Tokhi, a cameraman with TOLONews, Ghazi Rasoul, a reporter with 1TV and cameraman Nawroz Ali Khamosh, Ali Saleemi and Saleem Talash from Mashal TV. Sabawoon Kakar, an RFE cameraman, died in the hospital from his injuries.
Five other journalists were injured in the attack.
Monday’s attack in Kabul, in fact, was the deadliest day for journalists anywhere in the world since the attack at the Charlie Hebdo office in 2015. Reporters Without Borders said the attack was the worst of its kind against Afghan journalists "since the fall of the Taliban government in December 2001."
Human Rights Watch issued a statement reiterating that “killing journalists is an attack on freedom of expression… Under the laws of war, deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes. Posing as a journalist to carry out an attack is also perfidious, a war crime in which the attacker assumes civilian status."
"This latest attack on journalists in Afghanistan is a reminder of the extreme dangers to media workers in that country and of the extremely brutal tactics used there by enemies of the free press," said Steven Butler, Centre to Protect Journalists Asia programme coordinator. "The attack amounts to an assault on Afghan democracy as the nation prepares for parliamentary elections scheduled for October."
The United Nations condemned the attack, with Secretary-General António Guterres underscoring the need to bring the perpetrators to justice. “The deliberate targeting of journalists in the attack highlights once again the risks media professionals face in carrying out their essential work,” Guterres said in a statement attributable to his spokesperson.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the bombings, saying "the independent media is a cornerstone of democracy."
The attacks are indicative of the worsening security situation in Afghanistan -- where a shaky and very dependent partnership between the United States and the elected Afghan government has failed to establish any semblance of stability or control. The Taliban has captured more and more territory in recent years, with the latest attacks -- no matter who the claimant or perpetrator -- only bolstering the militant group even further.