Afghanistan: Targeting Stabilization – Analysis


By Sanchita Bhattacharya

A spike in targeted killing in Afghanistan has seen Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) hitting critics and opponents with increasing frequency. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in its Mid Year Report of 2012, noted that casualties resulting from targeted killings of civilians by AGEs increased by 53 per cent in the first six months of 2012 in comparison to the corresponding period of 2011. UNAMA documented the killing of 255 civilians between January 1 and June 30, 2012, as compared to 190 civilian fatalities during the corresponding period of 2011. A total of 495 persons were killed in targeted killings in 2011, up from 461 in 2010; 225 in 2009; and 293 in 2008. AGEs have targeted community leaders, governmental authorities and civilians whom they suspect of supporting the government or military forces.

Significantly, on May 2, 2012, the Taliban had announced that their Spring Offensive of 2012, codenamed Al-Farooq, would specifically aim to kill civilian targets, including high ranking government officials, members of Parliament, High Peace Council (HPC) members, contractors and “all those people who work against the Mujahideen”.

International humanitarian and human rights laws prohibit the deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians, categorized as a war crime and the violation of the right to life.

In 2011, the Taliban had claimed responsibility for numerous targeted killings of civilian government officials, tribal elders, government workers, contractors, drivers, translators and other civilians, and also included civilians in their public lists of targets to kill or capture. In an October 2011 statement, responding to the Government’s convening of a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly), the Taliban identified a broad range of civilians participating in the Jirga or associated with the Government as ‘lawful targets’, declaring:

The Islamic Emirate wants to warn every person who wants to participate in this so-called Loya Jirga that such traitors will be pursued by Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate in every corner of the country and will face severe repercussions. The country’s trustworthy scholars have passed a decree in this regard and every participant of this convention shall be charged with treason if caught. The Islamic Emirate also calls on its brave and courageous Mujahideen to target every security guard, person with intention, participant and every follower of this convention.

A variety of methods have been employed to execute targeted killings, including shootings, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks. The Taliban often publicly broadcast names of intended targets over mobile radio stations before the killing. In a number of cases where AGEs use remote-controlled IEDs (RCIEDs) targeting Pro-Government Forces, civilians have been disproportionately harmed, particularly when AGEs target military objectives in civilian populated areas.

Targets have included civil servants at all levels, tribal and religious elders, humanitarian aid workers, civil society members, political figures, individuals who joined the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program and their relatives, and family members of AGEs who sought to re-integrate into Afghan communities.

On another plane, the insurgents systematically target the educational infrastructure, destroying schools. According to partial data collected by Institute for Conflict Management, 1,178 targeted incidents on schools have taken place in Afghanistan since 2008. The more bizarre attacks have included poisonings, either by contamination of drinking water or by the release of unknown substances into the air, at schools. Ironically, in a statement, issued on March 7, 2012, the Taliban identified the promotion of education as one of their main objectives, declaring that education was the “need of the new generation”.

Some of the most significant targeted incidents include:

August 13, 2012: Ishkamesh District Mayor, Abdul Aziz, Takhar HPC member Haji Hashim and three others were killed in a roadside-bomb attack in Takhar Province. Local officials blamed the bombing on the Taliban.

August 12, 2012: The Governor of Alishing District of Laghman Province, Faridullah Neyazi, was killed, along with three of his bodyguards, when his vehicle was hit by RCIED.

May 13, 2012: Arsala Rahmani, a close adviser to President Hamid Karzai, and former HPC member was killed by a gunman in Kabul city.

March 24, 2012: Haji Khairo Jan, a former Afghan senator, was killed along with four persons, when their vehicle was targeted with a RCIED near Tiran Kot, capital of Uruzgan Province.

December 6, 2011: A suicide attacker targeted civilians by detonating his explosives at the entrance to the Abulfazl mosque, belonging to Shia sect, in Kabul, killing 56 civilians and injuring 195 others. The Shias have frequently been targeted in sectarian attacks by the Taliban.

September 20, 2011: Former Afghanistan President and head of the HPC Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed in a suicide bomb attack at his home, close to the American Embassy in Kabul.

July 17, 2011: Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior advisor to President Hamid Karzai, and Hashim Watanwal, a Member of the Afghan Parliament, were killed when two assailants stormed Khan’s house in Kabul city.

July 12, 2011: Ahmad Wali Karzai head of the Provincial Council of the Kandahar Province and younger brother of President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by one of his guards at his residence. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident.

February 22, 2010: Mohammad Zaman, prominent military and political leader was killed in a suicide bombing, while addressing refugees in Khogyani District of Nangarhar Province.

September 2, 2009: An attack in Mehterlam city of Laghman Province targeted and killed the Deputy Head of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Abdullah Laghmani and four other NDS staff. 18 civilians were also killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

August 25, 2009: At least 46 civilians were killed and more than 60 injured when a truck bomb exploded in Kandahar city of Kandahar Province. The target was National Directorate of Security building.

April 28, 2008: An attack targeting President Hamid Karzai was carried out during a military parade in Kabul. A Member of Parliament, Fazel Rahman Samkanai, and two others were killed.

February 17, 2008: A suicide bomber blew himself up in the Nagahan Rudkhana area of Arghandab District in Kandahar Province killing Abdul Hakim Jan, a prominent leader of the Alokozai tribe and the commander of the District’s contingent of the [now disbanded] Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP) force and another 12 ANAP personnel. The attack also killed at least 67 civilians and wounded some 90 others.

Targeted killings have destroyed tremendous potential of creating an independent political culture in the country, creating a chilling effect on those who seek to participate in democratic processes and structures. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), notes, moreover, “There is often no clear delineation between where intimidation ends and violence begins. The insurgents specifically use targeted assassinations as a form of intimidation, to impact on the population far beyond the individual victim(s).”

The social and political order in Afghanistan remains extremely fragile, and targeted killings have undermined the emergence of any effective alternative to the current regime of dominance by the International Security Assistance Force. The incipient democratic and national security institutions in the country are reeling under the impact of the Taliban violence, and the tentative consolidation of the structures of stable governance in Afghanistan is put at extreme risk by targeted attacks that impose a pall of terror on the wider population and on those involved in the tasks of administration.

Sanchita Bhattacharya
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

5 thoughts on “Afghanistan: Targeting Stabilization – Analysis

  • August 29, 2012 at 6:10 am

    They wanted to run the war, they wanted to plan the war, it was not the plan, the 5 year plan, we had in mind, they cut us out. I don’t know what it is. They saw Iraq turn around and they thought it was easy to run a war. I remember a Marine say that McChrystal had set it up for victory and anyone could run this war.

    Basically McChrystal and then Petraeus were nothing more than administrators with limited operation influence and options on the ground day to day of someone else failed doctrine. With the 5 year plan which Bush and Cheney had signed off on, we asked for the absolute minimum assets and time frame for victory. It would have been won and we would be leaving at the end of 2013. Why because we say what we can do and do what we say and the boss has our word. And that’s it written in stone, good as done. Which is why a long leash and we got what we wanted.

  • August 29, 2012 at 6:23 am

    I tell you something even Petraeus did not know at the time the theory of a surge was thought up in late 2005 and the increase force structure was for a blitzkrieg inside Iran and then an establishment of a buffer zone inside Iran in 2007, to support the rings of security inside Iraq.

    If Iran had not been so amiable in relation involvement in Iraq, that was the only way we could conduct a strategic withdrawal, expand the war. The DOD was kept out of it due to failure to succeed in Iraq and opposition to Iran.

  • August 29, 2012 at 6:44 am

    They think they are smart here is the thing they thought they could take bits and pieces of the modules (modulated warfare) from the 5 year plan. And we were not need, they burn us.

    McChrystal sacked (fair enough, he was later cleared, plus it was due to the lack of resources, but he had to go). Petraeus sure he is running the Company, but no Chief of the Army, no Joint Chiefs.

    Don’t worry about me.

    They thought they had it won and could not lose. Sure we used Karzai as our front of the plan, so no blow back on us, if it failed due to the Afghan side.

    But it is their failure they own it all, the politicians an their military muppets. From the US, NATO to Australia. They are by their own admission losers, to a bunch of peasant, with saddles and AK’s.

    The history books will show them as losers for eternity.

  • August 29, 2012 at 6:56 am

    See they don’t now about the two way street that is called loyalty. Maybe Saddam’s WMD’s are in Syria maybe they are not. But as everyone can see what is happening in Syria has nothing to do with WMD’s.

  • August 29, 2012 at 7:08 am

    I will add that is how even taking bits and pieces of the modules of modulated warfare and still mess it up. Because it is still highly complex. A lot of simple things make something very complex, a lot of complex things makes something unworkable.

    As you can see from the multitasking in relation to Syria. Are we looking for Saddam’s WMD’s, is it connect to Israel and Iran, what is the Arab Spring, is it the list of countries for regime change.

    All the leaks about Israel attack on Iran, merchant ships, limpet mines, Straits of Hormuz, etc.

    How can I drop modules in relation to modulated warfare an still have a successful core. Yet you pick bit and pieces and fail in Afghanistan.

    It is the future of warfare modulated warfare, when Barak (A successful General in war) opens up that big file called Operation South and picks bits and pieces (modules) in relation to Gaza Strip.

    It will catch on, it is the future of warfare.


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