The Taliban carried out yet another high-profile assassination today in southern Afghanistan, killing the mayor of Kandahar city in a suicide attack.
Mayor Ghulam Haidar Hamidi was killed by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives in a hallway near the mayor’s office. One of Hamidi’s bodyguards was wounded in the attack.
The spokesman for Kandahar province told Reuters that the suicide bomber appeared to have hidden the bomb in his turban. According to Kandahar’s chief of police, Hamidi was meeting with tribal leaders to discuss the deaths of women and children when buildings were razed in the city.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed the attack and said that Hamidi was on the Taliban’s “hit-list,” according to Reuters. Ahmadi also claimed the attack was to avenge the deaths of the civilians who were killed when the buildings were destroyed.
Ryan Crocker, the new US Ambassador to Afghanistan, said that people should not be quick to accuse the Taliban of the attack as a demonstration was underway outside of the Mayor’s office.
But the Taliban carried out a very similar attack using a bomb hidden in a turban just two weeks ago at a memorial service in a mosque for President Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. The suicide bomber killed Hikmatullah Hikmat, the chief of Kandahar’s Ulema Council, which governs religious issues; another senior cleric; and a child.
US military intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that today’s attack, like previous suicide operations carried out by the Taliban in Kandahar this year, was likely carried out by the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz, or the Mullah Dadullah Front, a radical Taliban subgroup closely linked to al Qaeda. US military intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that this subgroup is suspected of having carried out the recent attacks in Kandahar.
The Mullah Dadullah Front is a wing of the Taliban in the south that has adopted al Qaeda’s tactics and ideology, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in December 2010. The Mullah Dadullah Front is led by Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since been promoted as the Taliban’s top military commander and co-leader of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura.
The Taliban have killed two other senior power brokers in the Afghan south this month. On July 12, the Taliban claimed to have assassinated Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother. Ahmed Wali was gunned down in his office. Officials originally dismissed claims that Ahmed Wali was killed by the Taliban but later found evidence that linked his death to the group.
On July 17, a suicide assault team killed Jan Mohammad Khan, the former governor of Uruzgan province who had become one of Karzai’s top advisers, and Mohammad Hashim Watanwal, a parliamentarian from Uruzgan, in an attack on Khan’s compound in Kabul.
The Taliban have successfully executed other high-profile assassinations in Kandahar in the recent past. Since the spring of 2010, the list of those killed in the Taliban’s assassination campaign in Kandahar includes the provincial chief of police, the deputy governor of Kandahar, the district chief for Arghandab, and the deputy mayor of Kandahar City.
In the Afghan north, the Taliban have also targeted senior military, police, and government officials, assassinating four senior leaders in the region over the past nine months. In October 2010, a Taliban suicide bomber killed Kunduz Governor Muhammad Omar as he worshiped in a mosque in Takhar province. Omar had been vocal in his opposition to the Taliban, and had consistently warned of the spread of the Taliban and allied terror groups in the Afghan north. In March 2011, a suicide bomber killed General Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili, the provincial chief of police for Kunduz. And in May, a suicide bomber killed General Dawood Dawood, the top commander for the Afghan National Police in the north; and Mawlawi Shah Jahan, the chief of police for Takhar province. Major General Markus Kneip, Regional Commander North for the International Security Assistance Force, and the governor of Takhar were also wounded in the attack.
Background on the Taliban’s spring offensive
The Taliban are seeking to roll back Afghan and Coalition gains made in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar over the past year, and to reinforce the perception that Taliban forces can strike in all areas of Afghanistan. The Taliban are also trying to break the will of the Afghan security forces as well as intimidate local Afghans.
In their announcement of the Badar offensive, the Taliban said the primary targets would be “foreign invading forces, members of their spy networks and (other) spies, high-ranking officials of the Kabul Puppet Administration, both military and civilian, members of the cabinet, members of the parliament, Heads of foreign and local companies working for the enemy and contractors.” The Afghan High Peace Council was also singled out.
The Taliban said Badar would focus on “military centers, places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country.” Their tactics would include “group and martyrdom seeking attacks,” or suicide attacks and assaults; “group offensives,” or massed assaults; “city attacks,” ambushes, and IED attacks.
The Taliban also said that “strict attention must be paid to the protection and safety of civilians during the spring operations by working out a meticulous military plan.”
The Taliban maintain they have no shortage of suicide bombers to carry out attacks. In April, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers train at camps in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan.
The Pakistani government refuses to strike the terror groups in North Waziristan despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations in North Waziristan, as well as requests by the US that action be taken against these groups. The Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a senior Taliban commander in North Waziristan, or the Haqqani Network, which is also based there. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. Yet Bahadar, the Haqqanis, and other Taliban groups openly shelter groups that carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.