Recent Taliban attacks show increased targeting of civilians
Less than two days after a suspected Haqqani Network assault on a lakefront hotel near Kabul in which attackers executed Afghan civilians for allegedly "drinking alcohol" and partaking in "debauchery," Taliban militants in Parwan province executed one of their own commanders on charges he was involved in an "illicit relationship" with a local woman.
Farther east, in Nangarhar province, suspected Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive device near a music bazaar in Jalalabad City, injuring four civilians, two of whom later died from their wounds. And in the northwestern province of Faryab, insurgents massacred the family of a local policeman who had been warned by the Taliban to quit the police force.
These four attacks suggest that the Taliban could be attempting to restore their public image as zealous Islamists implementing a strict interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) and punishing those accused of engaging in forbidden or 'un-Islamic' activities and behavior.
The brutal disregard for civilians shown in these recent attacks also contradicts the Taliban's often-stated but seldom-observed military doctrine that urges fighters to avoid civilian casualties and refrain from attacking predominantly civilian infrastructure.
Assassination of Taliban commander in Parwan province
On the night of June 22, Taliban fighters loyal to the Taliban's shadow governor for Shinwari district in Parwan province attacked the residence of Taliban commander Mullah Qader (a.k.a Qader Goong) near the village of Qool-Hero, killing him and a female companion in a hail of bullets. The governor of Parwan province, Lieutenant General Abdul Basir Salangi, confirmed the incident to Bakhtar News, and noted that Taliban groups in Parwan have recently been fighting among themselves in the Shinwari district.
The Shinwari district chief, Abdul Rahil, told Khaama Press that Mullah Qader had been killed along with a woman over charges by fellow Taliban fighters that his relationship with the woman was "illicit." Rahil also claimed that Taliban fighters had put the woman under surveillance for months, and that they suspected Qader of having provided the intelligence to Afghan security forces that led to the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Izatullah (also spelled Ezatullah) in Parwan's unstable Ghorband district.
According to the Afghan Interior Ministry, members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) killed Izatullah during a security operation in Ghorband on June 18. The Afghan government described Izatullah as "the main planner and organizer of terrorist and destructive activities, armed assault[s] and explosions in different parts of Parwan province; particularly the Ghorband district," according to a statement published in Wakht.
The security situation in Parwan province has become especially perilous since last year. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) turned over security responsibilities for Parwan to the Afghan government in December 2011. Taliban insurgents have penetrated the Shekh-Ali, Shinwari, and Ghorband districts in Parwan, and have frequently clashed with local security forces and staged several unsuccessful assassination attempts against the powerful Parwan governor, General Salangi.
The recent deaths of Mullah Qader and Mullah Izatullah highlight the lack of unity among the Taliban fronts operating in the contentious rural areas of Parwan province. The Taliban district governor for Shinwari, Mullah Moner, is believed to have orchestrated the execution of Qader and his female companion. The episode marks the latest instance in which Taliban infighting has led to the deaths of fellow commanders, and follows an incident this spring in which senior Taliban Quetta Shura members were detained by fellow Taliban fighters and allegedly Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence operatives near Quetta on charges of "treason." In that incident, several high-ranking Taliban commanders, including Mullah Ismail, were reportedly executed for engaging in unsanctioned "peace talks" with the Afghan government [see LWJ report, Afghan intel confirms death of senior Afghan Taliban leader, possibly 25 others].
Attack on Nangarhar music bazaar, a massacre of civilians in Faryab
On June 23, an explosive device was detonated by suspected Taliban insurgents in the eastern city of Jalalabad, injuring four civilians and destroying a stall that sold music CDs in a part of the bazaar occupied by mostly Hindu merchants. Two of those injured later died from their wounds, according to Sayed Afandi Sayedi, a senior doctor at the local hospital, who spoke to AFP.
And in Afghanistan's northwest, Taliban insurgents stormed the home of a local policeman in Faryab province and executed five of his relatives. The policeman was not home at the time, but his father, mother, brother, sister, and wife were shot and then beheaded by the Taliban. The attack occurred in the contested district of Almar late on June 22.
While the recent attacks against Afghan civilians and civilian infrastructure defy earlier decrees by senior Taliban leaders, including Supreme Commander Mullah Mohammad Omar, to ensure the safety of civilians and their property, the Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghan security forces and their families throughout the country. The Taliban's methods for these attacks have included suicide bombings and roadside bombs, such as the June 18 suicide attack that killed ALP Commander Karimullah in Kapisa province, and the May 28 roadside bomb attack that killed ALP Commander Dadullah and four of his men in Baghlan province.
In addition to the Taliban's brutal campaign against government security forces and their families, suspected Taliban insurgents have unleashed a series of poison attacks against schools, according to Afghan officials. Many of these suspected attacks have occurred within the past three months, sickening hundreds of students in Takhar, Khost, Bamyan, Kabul, and Nangarhar provinces. [For details, see LWJ report, NDS arrests senior Taliban leader and 14 others linked to school poisonings, and Threat Matrix report, Afghan officials report suspected poison attack in Sar-i-Pul.]
The recent surge in attacks allegedly motivated by religious zealotry, such as the Spoghmai Hotel assault in which Haqqani Network gunmen directed their savage attack against Afghan partygoers, apparently killing Afghan males they suspected of consuming alcohol, and the destruction of the music CD stall in Jalalabad, represent a possible shift in the Taliban's motivations and objectives, and may indicate a greater reliance on Pakistan-based militants, such as radical elements of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and the al-Qaeda affiliated Haqqani Network.