Taliban sympathizer kills 2 at Afghan defense ministry

McClatchy NewspapersApril 18, 2011 

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the second time in three days, a Taliban suicide bomber in an Afghan army uniform on Monday penetrated a supposedly secure Afghan military facility, the latest evidence that military and government supporters are at risk even inside the most heavily guarded locations.

Monday's incident took place at the Defense Ministry in Kabul, where in theory, security is among the tightest in the country. A ministry spokesman said that the would-be bomber was killed before he could detonate the explosives he was wearing, but not before he'd shot dead two Afghan soldiers and wounded seven others.

A Taliban spokesman said the attack was intended to disrupt the visit of French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet, who arrived on Sunday in Afghanistan, where France has nearly 4,000 troops assigned to the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, as the coalition battling the Taliban is known formally. It's unclear whether Longuet was in the building at the time; a joint news conference with Longuet and his Afghan counterpart was canceled.

The incident highlights a key Taliban tactic that has become a major problem for the coalition: Using members of the military or police to skirt security procedures to deliver explosives inside secure locations.

On Saturday, an Afghan soldier detonated himself at an Afghan army base in Laghman province, killing five NATO soldiers and four Afghans. The Taliban said the soldier had joined the army just a month ago for the express purpose of a suicide attack.

On Friday, a bomber in a police uniform triggered explosives he was wearing inside the Kandahar provincial police headquarters, killing the provincial police chief, Khan Mohammad Mujahid, who'd survived several assassination attempts since his appointment in September.

In the past week, there also have been suicide attacks on an army training center in Paktia province and a police headquarters in southern Kabul. The deadliest strike came Wednesday, when a suicide bomber in Kunar province killed 10 tribal leaders allied with the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimy provided no answer to whether Monday's bomber was, in fact, an army member or merely wearing the uniform.

But Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told McClatchy that the attacker, whom he identified as Assadullah, had been a longtime member of the Afghan military. He said Assadullah was from Panjsher province, the same province where the legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by suicide attackers two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., was born.

On Saturday, Mujahid told McClatchy that the Taliban intended to continue using men in uniform to conduct suicide attacks. "This is an effective tactic, and we will use this in the future too," he said.

Keeping Taliban supporters out of the country's security forces is increasingly difficult. As ISAF prepares to hand security responsibilities to Afghans in some parts of the country this summer, recruiting for the army and police has been accelerated.

But there hasn't been any increase in efforts to screen recruits for their political leanings. The only requirements for joining the army or police are that you be 18, an Afghan citizen and have no criminal background. Two government officials are required to confirm those details, but there is no further exam beyond a medical checkup.

It's difficult to gauge the impact of suicide attacks. While such attacks result in only a handful of dead and no territorial conquest, their psychological impact can be significant, showing that the Taliban is able to strike almost anywhere. The Defense Ministry, for example, is only a few hundred yards from Afghanistan's presidential palace.

The impact would grow if increased screening of recruits slows the process of creating an Afghanistan army and police force large enough to assume security functions now undertaken by the U.S.-led coalition.

Such attacks also have the potential to sow suspicion between the coalition and their Afghan counterparts.

Last year, an Afghan army soldier killed three British soldiers in Helmand province. In November, an Afghan border patrolman killed six U.S. soldiers in Nangarhar province.

(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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