SVBIED Attack, Kabul – 27th January 2018
A suicide bomber driving an ambulance detonated their explosives at a second checkpoint in Kabul during a SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) attack which is the second suicide attack in Kabul in 2018 (the other being an IS-KP attack[i].) The attack is also the second major Taliban attack of 2018 in the city after the Taliban’s assault on the Intercontinental Hotel. A second vehicle was involved in the attack but was able to escape in the chaos after the initial detonation. The incident picked up significant media attention for two reasons, the first being the volume of casualties and the second being the location. Approximately 100 people were killed in the attack, and 253 others were wounded. The attack itself took place close to multiple high profile targets such as the old Ministry of Interior building, the Indian Embassy and the Police HQ. The bomber detonated their explosives close to Sidarat Square on the corner of Chicken Street, a typically crowded area. Members of government institutions were the intended target but many civilians unaffiliated with the government were killed.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident, saying that the bombing in Kabul and another SVBIED attack on a security forces checkpoint in the Qari Posta area of the Nad-e-Ali district, Helmand[ii], was in response to civilian casualties caused by a recent security forces operation in the Chahar Dara district of Kunduz Province.[iii] This is not necessarily a new initiative on behalf of the Taliban, but Twitter accounts of the Taliban seem to have referred to the specific operation as justification more than usual, rather than referring to broader instances. The attack was carried out by a militant from Kandahar, identified as Salahuddin Kandari.
Rhetoric Surrounding the Attack
After the attack, both the Taliban and the international community were quick to apply their own narrative to the attack. The Taliban frequently claimed immediately after the attack that the casualties of the attack were all members of government institutions, and were therefore legitimate targets. The Taliban have been dogmatic in the way in which they have stuck to this narrative, and have attempted to use the proximity to government buildings as proof of the nature of the casualties,[iv] contrary to confirmed deaths amongst civilians. The nearby Jomhuryat Hospital suffered damages worth 50 million Afghanis during the attack[v], undermining the Taliban’s claims somewhat.
The international community, the USA, the Afghan Government and even Mullah Rasool’s Taliban splinter faction condemned the attack. The USA in particular has also applied their own narrative to the incident, and in a way similar to the Taliban made claims not necessarily backed up by reality. As is the case in the wake of many major terror incidents which target civilians, many institutions, individuals and governments suggest the attack is a sign of weakness. In this instance, this is not the case. US statements have called upon the Taliban to come to negotiations or face annihilation. Contrary to dominant themes within the discourse, the Taliban continue to be a significant force in Afghanistan and have recently been able to put pressure on Afghan cities, particularly Farah City.
Pressure on the NUG
The National Unity Government (NUG) has come under additional pressure from rivals and members of the Afghan population after a month of brutal attacks. The NUG is perceived as being unable to prevent the Taliban and Islamic State – Khorosan Province (IS-KP) from carrying out attacks in highly populated areas seemingly at will.
In an attempt to deflect some of the blame in the aftermath of the incident, high profile officials within the Afghan government have levelled blame at Pakistan. Pakistan has been widely accused of supporting the Taliban in controversial tweets from the US President and some members of the Afghan government have added to the accusations. Masoom Stanikzai (Head of the National Directorate for Security) for example claimed that the attack was the result of Pakistan taking revenge on the Afghan people in the face of mounting pressure on Pakistan.[vi]
In a recent press conference, Wais Ahmad Barmak, (Afghanistan’s Interior Minister) claimed that insurgents had spies and informers within the government’s security network.[vii] Claims such as those made by Barmak and Stanikzai have gone some way to undermine confidence in the NUG, but the ongoing conflict between Atta Noor (Balkh Provincial Governor) and President Ghani appears to be the dominant reason for low confidence levels. Noor’s refusal to stand down, the government’s weak stance on armed warlords combined with the NUG’s inability to bring security even in Kabul has left the beleaguered centralised government in a difficult position. Calls for increased security are merely a response to attacks and in many ways put the NUG and other counter-insurgents on the back foot and are only a short term fix.