A Taliban suicide assault team attacked a compound run by a development contractor for USAID in the northern province of Kunduz early this morning.
The attack began at about 3:30 a.m., when a suicide bomber rammed a truck packed with explosives into the outer wall of a compound used by Development Alternatives Inc., a US-based contractor for USAID. The suicide bomber breached the outer wall of the compound, and five heavily armed Taliban fighters wearing suicide vests moved into the compound and began to open fire.
Afghan security forces responded to the attack and fought a pitched battle with the terrorists which lasted several hours. The five Taliban suicide bombers, an Afghan policeman, an Afghan security guard protecting the compound, and two foreigners were killed during the fighting. One German national was among those killed.
The Taliban quickly took credit for the suicide assault and claimed that 55 foreign nationals were killed during the attack on a “training center,” The Associated Press reported.
The Taliban wildly exaggerate the effects of their attacks and resultant Coalition and Afghan casualties. In propaganda statements released on their website, Voice of Jihad, the Taliban make daily claims that scores of soldiers are killed and dozens of vehicles are destroyed.
Today’s suicide assault is the second in three days in the war-torn country. On June 30, a Taliban suicide assault team attempted to storm Jalalabad Airfield in the eastern province of Nangarhar. The assault was repelled and eight Taliban fighters were killed.
Background on the Taliban strongholds in the north
Over the past two years, the security situation in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan has deteriorated. The Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), the Haqqani Network, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan all have a presence in the two provinces and have been attacking Coalition and Afghan forces as well as NATO supply lines from Tajikistan.
The Taliban and allied terror groups maintain safe havens in Baghlan and Kunduz, and control large portions of the provinces. Of the seven districts in Kunduz province, only two are considered under government control; the rest of the districts – Chahara Dara, Dashti Archi, Ali Abab, Khan Abad, and Iman Sahib – are considered contested or under Taliban control, according to a map produced by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry in the spring of 2009. Two districts in neighboring Baghlan province – Baghlan-i-Jadid and Burka – are under the control of the Taliban [see LWJ report, “Afghan forces and Taliban clash in Kunduz,” and Threat Matrix report, “Afghanistan’s wild-wild North”].
Kunduz and Baghlan fall under ISAF’s Regional Command North, which is led by the Germans. The Germans have been criticized by the Afghan government and Coalition partners for failing to aid in securing the north. German troops are restricted from actively engaging in major combat operations and have largely confined their forces to base. US forces have recently deployed to Kunduz and have been battling the Taliban.
Kunduz has been the scene of heavy fighting over the past year. On May 13, combined Afghan and Coalition forces killed 41 Taliban fighters during operations. On April 24, combined forces killed 23 Taliban fighters in Kunduz province. The largest Taliban loss took place during an operation in Kunduz in early November 2009; the Afghan military claimed 133 Taliban fighters were killed. The most high-profile event in Kunduz took place on Sept. 4, 2009, when Coalition fighters bombed fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban; more than 60 Taliban fighters and 40 civilians were killed.
The top Taliban leaders for the two northern provinces have also been detained or killed this year. The Pakistanis reportedly detained the Taliban’s shadow governors for Kunduz and Baghlan in February. In April, the Afghan military claimed that the newly-named, replacement shadow governor for Kunduz was killed along with three aides.
Earlier this year, Baghlan was the scene of a local internecine battle between the Taliban and allied HIG. Seventy HIG fighters and 50 Taliban fighters were killed in fighting in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district after disagreements arose over collecting taxes. Scores of HIG fighters defected to the government after being defeated. There is no indication, however, that the taxation dispute between the two groups that spiraled into fighting has spread beyond the Baghlan-e-Markazi district.
But despite the Taliban’s losses in the north, the group remains in firm control of several districts. The Taliban have launched an assassination campaign and have also been accused of releasing poisonous gases in girls’ schools in Kunduz. Scores of Afghan schoolgirls have been hospitalized over the past several months due to the gas attacks.
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