Taliban increase tempo of attacks near Kabul

Even as the Taliban and the Afghan government are on the verge of entering into direct peace talks, the insurgent group has increased its attacks and activities in Kabul city’s neighbouring districts. In addition, there has been a remarkable increase in magnetic bomb blasts and other kinds of attacks in the national capital, most of which have gone unclaimed. These incidents have set alarm bells ringing about a possible long-term threat to the security of Kabul city.

What has happened?

Over the past few weeks, the Taliban have carried out several attacks in Kabul province’s northern districts, namely Shakar Dara, Gul Dara, Qara Bagh and Mir Bacha Kot districts – also known as Shamali (Northern Areas) – and western Paghman district. The insurgents carried out attacks on police checkpoints in these districts, targeted government officials on the Kabul-Parwan motorway and destroyed power pylons in the region. They have attacked government officials in other localities also and distributed leaflets warning government workers to leave these areas. “Several people who are in the police, army and education sectors have left Gul Dara,” Mohammad Hassan, a resident of the district, told private channel Tolo News TV. Hundreds of families have been displaced due to the group’s increasing activities in the Shamali area, which is barely 27 to 40 km from Kabul city, reports say.

Taliban peace talks

The US-Taliban deal is seen as a milestone in the Afghan peace process

There has also been a significant increase in the Taliban’s activities in Paghman district, which is only 25 km from the central part of Kabul city. “They plant mines, launch attacks during the night as well day, and kill policemen,” Ahmad Shah, a policeman from the district, told Tolo News. Moreover, magnetic bomb blasts have also been taking place in Kabul city almost every day. Kabul police said that at least 37 sticky bomb blasts took place in the city within a month, killing and wounding 29 people, private Bost Radio reported on 12 August.

In the most recent case, four magnetic bomb blasts and an armed attack took place in Kabul on 22 August, in which an army officer was killed and four others injured. Most of these attacks went unclaimed, but the Interior Ministry said that 29 Taliban militants were arrested within a month in connection with the blasts, Tolo News reported.

Why is it happening?

Though the Taliban have been active in Kabul’s southern and eastern districts such as Chahar Asiab, Khak-e Jabar and Surobi for many years, they were unable to make any gains in its northern regions over the past 18 years. In fact, local commanders from the Shamali region had inflicted blows to the Taliban when the group controlled Kabul city between 1996 and 2001. Therefore the insurgents’ increased activities in the northern districts suggest that the group intends to besiege the national capital from different directions. This could be a part of its plans to gain an upper hand in the imminent intra-Afghan negotiations.

Taliban prisoners

Over 4,500 Taliban prisoners have been released to pave the way for talks

“The Taliban are now trying to show that they have gained influence in the northern areas of Kabul,” said the private  Arman-e Melli newspaper. “The Taliban intend to convey the message that they will occupy the national capital, Kabul city, after US troops withdraw from the country,” the paper added, referring to the US-Taliban deal signed on 29 February. If the Taliban are also involved in the magnetic bomb blasts, this would mean that the group has made some changes in its war tactics as there have been increasing calls for a nationwide ceasefire or reduction in violence before starting the intra-Afghan talks. The increasing magnetic bomb blasts in Kabul show that “violence has taken a new shape and colour”, said the pro-government newspaper Daily Afghanistan on 23 August.

What next?

Though the Afghan forces have launched operations against the Taliban in the Shakar Dara area and detained 25 insurgents, they have not been able to clear the affected area of the Taliban completely. If the group manages to gain a foothold and strengthen its positions in these areas, it can destabilise the security of highways linking Kabul city with the northern and southern provinces. Moreover, the national capital can also come within the range of the Taliban’s rockets and mortar shelling. “This is a serious threat to Kabul city. There are mountains around the capital city and the enemy can fire rockets from there,” the province’s governor, Yaqoob Haidari, has said. The Daily Afghanistan has said the intensification of violence could undermine the peace effort.

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