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Suicide Bombings Backfire on Taliban, U.S. Officer Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2007 – Recent suicide-bombing attacks against innocent Afghans indicate a changed Taliban strategy that is backfiring on the radical Islamic group, a senior U.S. military officer in Afghanistan told Pentagon reporters today.

A spate of suicide bombings targeting residents of the city of Khowst and other areas in Afghanistan have turned Afghans against the Taliban, Army Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, said during a satellite-carried news conference. Schweitzer’s command operates in Paktika, Paktia, Lowgar, Ghazni and Khost provinces in the southeastern part of the country.

“Khowst is a pretty developed city in Afghanistan, and it has been a target of suicide (improvised explosive devices),” he said. “We think it is going to continue to be a target of IEDs for the Taliban.”

However, the Taliban’s plan to intimidate Khowst’s citizens into not cooperating with the Afghan government or its coalition partners “is just not working for them,” the colonel said.

Angry residents of Khowst and other towns plagued by terror bombings are telling the Taliban not to attack their children, families or schools, Schweitzer said.

Earlier this year, U.S., coalition and Afghan army forces launched a pre-emptive military strategy to head off an anticipated spring offensive by Taliban fighters, he said.

Now, the Taliban seem to be employing suicide bombs as a desperation move, the colonel said, noting that terrorist activity along the Afghan-Pakistani border is down from a year ago.

“We don’t think this is an effective offensive … If that’s as good as they’ve got, we’re in pretty good shape,” Schweitzer said. “I kind of hope it is, because the Afghan national security forces are going to get to develop their capacity over time without being interrupted by this threat.”

Current anti-Taliban strategy involves heightened security to interdict trans-border movements of Taliban fighters between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Schweitzer explained, as well as increased presence of Afghan National Army and coalition forces in areas where the Taliban are operating.

Such activity is frustrating the Taliban, he said, because the terrorists don’t like to engage coalition or Afghan troops in stand-up battles they invariably lose.

The Taliban have apparently switched their strategy and are attacking Afghan civilians, Schweitzer said, which they consider the “soft underbelly” of Afghan society. Yet, employing suicide bombers to carry out that strategy has damaged the Taliban’s cause, he pointed out.

“They’re using these IEDs, and they’re targeting the population; they’re targeting the kids; they’re targeting the schools; they’re targeting the medical clinics,” Schweitzer said.

As a consequence, regional Afghan leaders are clamoring for Afghan National Army protection against the Taliban, the colonel said, noting Afghans are now working with fellow Afghans to rid themselves of the Taliban.

“That has been incredibly effective in the last three months,” he said.

Afghans are disgusted by the Taliban’s tactic of using suicide bombers, the colonel said. “It is backfiring on the enemy,” he said.

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