Taliban’s use of roadside bombs doubled in 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters are now planting more than twice as many bombs as they were a year ago against coalition troops and Afghan security forces in Kandahar province, military officials said Thursday.
And the number of bomb attacks that have actually struck coalition and Afghan troops has nearly tripled over last year, according to statistics provided by Canada’s Task Force Kandahar, which oversees security for the province. But, the number of attacks that resulted in soldiers being killed or wounded actually fell 3 percent during the last four months of 2008, compared to the same period the year before, officials said.
“We are more successful in dealing with them, but there are a lot more of them,” said Capt. Roy Ulrich, deputy commander of the counter-bomb squadron for Task Force Kandahar.
“The reason behind that is that the insurgents have really thrown their weight behind this strategy. They’re no longer standing and fighting. We’re suffering virtually no casualties from direct-fire incidents. It’s [bombs], and this is their chosen strategy to attack coalition and Afghan forces.”
In a briefing with reporters late Thursday, Ulrich said that more than 350 bomb “events” occurred in the province from September to December of 2008, compared to 170 incidents during the same period the previous year. Coalition forces use the term “events” to describe both bombs that actually explode and those that are discovered before detonation. Car bombs and suicide bombers were also included in the tally.
During the last four months of 2007, there were 65 attacks in which bombs exploded against soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in the province, according to the task force’s statistics. However, that number had risen to about 180 attacks during the same period last year.
About 7 percent of the bombs that exploded during the four-month period in 2007 resulted in coalition casualties. By 2008, that figure had dropped to 4 percent, according to the statistics.
Ulrich said the drop resulted from better cooperation from Afghan civilians, more training of Afghan security forces, plus improved tactics that enabled Afghan and coalition troops to discover and disable bombs before they exploded. Several Taliban bomb networks had also been successfully targeted and disrupted by coalition forces, he said.
But Ulrich also acknowledged that the Taliban have gotten better at how they build, hide and detonate the bombs.
Since early December, Canadian forces have lost 10 soldiers to bomb attacks in Kandahar. More than 100 soldiers from Canada and other countries, mostly Great Britain and the United States, were killed in the province and elsewhere in southern Afghanistan last year, most of them by bomb blasts, according to statistics compiled from press releases issued by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and other sources.
Canada, which has the majority of soldiers in Kandahar, has also suffered the majority of casualties in the province. Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, and has overseen security efforts in Kandahar since 2005.
The U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, which operates in Maiwand district in western Kandahar province, lost one soldier to a bomb attack in September. Two others were killed by a suicide bomber last week in the Maiwand bazaar, but those two deaths were not included in the Canadian statistics, which ranged from September through December.
Ulrich said 50 percent of all bombs found in Kandahar province during the period were reported by Afghan civilians to local security forces or coalition troops.
Most victims of bomb blasts have been Afghan civilians, Ulrich said, although he did not provide specific figures.
Kandahar is where the fundamentalist Taliban movement first took root in the early 1990s, and the province remains the heartland for the Pashtun-based insurgency.
The Taliban’s shift in tactics comes as insurgent violence has swept across southern Afghanistan in recent years, and as the United States prepares to send an additional 30,000 troops to the country. Most of those forces are expected to deploy to Kandahar and other southern provinces over the course of the next year and a half, according to U.S. and ISAF military officials.