Thursday, August 7, 2008

suicide terrorism emerges in Afghanistan

From Alan Cullison in the WSJ...

More on an important topic-- where does suicide terrorism come from and what is its aim?

Cullison starts with the story of Hamza-- a suicidal 20-year-old who turns his depression into an opportunity to strike at American soldiers. Fortunately, the plan failed and he is now in prison.

Hamza's trajectory from depression to attempted mass murder mirrors a larger shift that is changing the war in Afghanistan and giving it a more vicious twist. It also provides a glimpse inside a suicide bombing network that Western diplomats and the Afghan military say Pakistan has allowed to flourish in its lawless border areas. Pakistan denies the charges....

Suicide attacks were virtually unheard of in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. That started to change after the U.S.-led occupation in 2001. Two were reported here in 2003; three in 2004. Then the numbers mushroomed: In 2006 there were 123 suicide attacks reported, a sevenfold increase from the year before, according to the United Nations. Last year 160 attackers blew themselves up, killing or injuring more than 1,700 people. So far this year, about 100 suicide attacks have occurred, making 2008 on track to outstrip last year in terms of fatalities.

According to Pape, with the Soviets, only two of the key determinants for "the strategic logic of suicide terrorism" were in play: (percevied) oppression/occupation by a much more powerful force. With America, the third key came into play: a democracy as the occupying force. As Pape observes, dictators won't be moved nearly as much by this tactic, while democracies are "softer" and more likely to bend (e.g., as Reagan with the Marines in Lebanon).

This dynamic is problematic-- in the short-term (as the paragraph below notes) and for the long-term...

The rise of suicide bombings is one reason security is crumbling in Afghanistan seven years after NATO forces invaded. The attacks have forced Western aid workers and the military to retreat into bunkerlike fortresses. They have also undermined confidence in the central government led by U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai. Victims have included regional police chiefs, members of Parliament, and a large number of bystanders.

With practice, they've grown more effective. A car bomb at the Indian Embassy July 7 was one of the deadliest yet, killing 58 people with a blast so powerful that it stripped the needles off a pine tree in the embassy compound.

When al Qaeda freely ran its own training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, its leaders worked up theological arguments to justify suicide attacks, but they never swayed local Afghans to partake in them. The locals' resistance was hardened partly by a deeply traditional social fabric, where village elders often gave the final word on right and wrong and settled disputes. Many were suspicious of Arab visitors. Suicide attacks were considered cowardly and un-Islamic.

But that social fabric may be unraveling after decades of war in Afghanistan, the mass movement of refugees, and the expanding presence of radical groups such as al Qaeda in the Pakistani border region....


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