Servicemember, 8 contractors killed in string of Kabul attacks
Stars and Stripes August 8, 2015
KABUL, Afghanistan — One international soldier and eight contractors were killed late Friday night in an attack on a coalition special operations base that capped a day marred by extreme violence throughout the Afghan capital, coalition officials confirmed Saturday.
The deaths bring Friday's toll to as many as 50 people killed in a barrage of attacks in Kabul, making it one of the deadliest days in years for the city. The casualties at the base also represent the single greatest loss of life for the coalition since it declared an end to its combat mission in December, bringing this year's total to 16 deaths.
The nationality and identity of the servicemember was not released, but the base, known as Camp Integrity, hosts the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.
The task force combines the various American special operations contingents and works with other elite NATO and Afghan units. The contractors were Afghans, according to an Afghan security official. At least ten other Afghans were injured in the attack, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The camp, located next to the Kabul airport, came under attack at about 10:15 p.m. Friday night, said coalition spokesman Col. Brian Tribus. An car bomb explosion was followed by an assault in which two attackers were killed, he said.
Reports indicated that as many as three American special operators may have been wounded in the exchange but coalition officials would not confirm anything beyond the single death.
The attack on the military base were part of an especially deadly day across Kabul.
Early in the morning a massive truck bomb struck a residential and shopping area near a military base, killing at least 15 people and wounding another 240.
Then on Friday evening, a suicide attack at a police training academy left as many as 26 cadets dead and 25 wounded.
The more than 350 total civilian casualties were the "the highest number of civilians killed and injured in one day since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009," the UN said in a statement on Saturday.
“Those responsible for suicide and complex attacks in civilian-populated areas can no longer shrug off the disproportionate harm to the civilian population they cause,” UNAMA chief Nicholas Haysom said in a statement. “The Afghan people are resilient, but the suffering caused by these tactics in terms of civilian deaths, injuries, and the loss of family members, is extreme, irreversible and unjustifiable in any terms.
The attacks occurred amid upheaval within the Taliban following public confirmation that their one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had died at least two years ago. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour has reportedly taken the reins of the insurgent group, but his ascendency has been disputed, leading to speculation that rifts could deepen within the already fractious group.
Observers said it was hard not to link Friday’s string of attacks to the power struggle within the Taliban, which comes just as the group was beginning initial peace talks with the Afghan government.
“This is definitely a message,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghan Analysts Network. “The question is only from whom: are these attacks the policy of the new leadership which – in practice – has already been in charge since 2010? Or is this a spoiler faction, plus supporters in Pakistan, that wants create outrage to undermine any Kabul-Taliban contacts?”
He noted that the attacks, and others like them, could make it more difficult for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to sell Afghan citizens on the idea of making a deal with the Taliban and other groups.
The attacks could also be a move by the new Taliban leadership to prove their power, observed Graeme Smith, a researcher with the International Crisis Group in Kabul.
“I think it’s clear that the new leaders are struggling to exert their authority, and that the leadership is not a done deal,” he said. “So if you want to show that you’re strong, blowing stuff up is one way to do that.”
Both Afghan and American officials condemned the attacks, but said the violence did not deter them from their goal of seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
“The fact is, in recent years the Afghan people have endured much, but they are resilient and are resilient even in the face of a brutal insurgency,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a briefing in Washington on Friday. “We continue to believe and continue to urge the Taliban to heed President Ghani’s call for reconciliation and make genuine peace with the Afghan government.”
The NATO-led coalition and the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan declared an end to their combat mission at the beginning of the year. But some coalition troops, especially special operations forces and aircraft, continue to conduct missions alongside Afghan forces.
Friday’s death is only the third for coalition service members so far this year, as tens of thousands of troops were withdrawn last year, and the remaining forces have largely retreated into a handful of fortified bases around the country. Five coalition civilians or contractors have died in Afghanistan in 2015, of various combat and non-combat causes.