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Taliban IED failures on rise

Misfiring of own bombs accounts for 10% of Taliban casualties, analysts say.

By Hasan Khan


KABUL – The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), long a trademark of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, is backfiring against the militants, leaving analysts to suspect that the level of training for militants and the quality of the IEDs are falling off.

"Either the handlers are not properly trained, or the materials used are sub-standard," said Abdul Haq Omari, a Tolo News journalist who has been unofficially tracking the number of cases in which militants have died because IEDs exploded early.

The Taliban have been suffering considerable losses through the mishandling of IEDs and bombs – mostly while planting them in their target areas, unofficial data indicate.

"Our estimates suggest almost 10% of insurgent casualties are due to IEDs or bombs exploded during placement by militants at public places or at roadsides," Ismail Yun, advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on cultural affairs and professor at Kabul University, told Central Asia Online.

The incidents – such as the one that occurred October 28 at Tarinkot, Uruzgan Province, where two insurgents were killed by their own prematurely exploding IED – are very common in areas infested by Taliban, he said.

"It happens almost regularly," Yun said of premature explosions. "But it catches media attention only when the number of casualties is high. Otherwise it is taken as a routine."

Most media outlets cover such incidents only when they are out of the ordinary, Omari agreed.

For example, although only two deaths occurred in the Tarinkot incident, that bombing received media coverage because of the timing and circumstances.

"The number of casualties would have been much higher had the bombs exploded in the day as insurgents selected a picnic spot expecting large number of visitors to come due to Eid celebrations," Yun said, adding that it seemed to have been Allah’s will that the bomb went off early, sparing the lives of many innocents.

Technicalities make planting IEDs dangerous

The placement of IEDs and of remote-control devices requires a high degree of skill, Raza Shah, a Pakistani-based observer of landmines and IEDs who heads the anti-landmine agency Sustainable Peace and Development Organisation, told Central Asia Online.

"It needs a great level of attention and expertise, as a minor mistake in meshing the wires or setting the time device can lead to the death of its handlers," Shah said.

Even bomb disposal officers have died by committing a minor mistake while making or defusing the devices, he said, citing the case of Peshawar Bomb Disposal Squad inspector Hukam Khan, who died while defusing an IED in September, despite 35 years of experience.

"Just a minor mistake, and you are blown up," Shah said, emphasising the inherent danger of dealing with bombs.

Shah also confirmed a rise in the number of incidents where militants themselves, or their vehicles, are killed or damaged by IEDs meant to target government forces.

Dozens of insurgents are injured daily in explosions while making or planting bombs, said Yun, author of 33 books on Afghan culture and history.

"Such incidents mostly happen late night or early morning," Yun said, explaining that this is the prime time when insurgents go out to plant the bombs. In many cases, insurgents remove their dead and wounded comrades to hide their incompetence.

And the deaths associated with premature bombings don’t really merit a lot of publicity, Yun said, because the insurgents are simply would-be killers, devoid of human feeling.

"They kill innocent people in name of God, even in the House of God," said Yun, referring to a bomb blast in front of a Faryab Province mosque after Eid prayers.

Reasons for increase in early detonation

The increase in early detonation indicates an increasing level of disarray within the militancy, Omari hypothesised.

Historically, the Taliban had a cadre of skilled bomb-makers, many of whom learned from Arab militants, reputedly among the best in making IEDs and training others to use them, Omari said.

However, many of these masters – most dating to the days of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – have been killed during the war on terror, analysts said. Also, heightened travel restrictions and uprisings in Arab lands have led to a noticeable reduction in the number of Arab militants coming to Afghanistan.

"There is a noticeable reduction in flow of Arab militants due to multiple reasons," Pak Institute for Peace Studies Director Amir Rana told Central Asia Online.

Increasing travel restrictions and scrupulous monitoring of the activities of Arab nationals, coupled with increasing demand for bomb-making skills in the Arab world, are some of the reasons reducing the flow of Arab militants to Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said.

“Al-Qaeda is now preferring to accommodate and deploy Arab nationals in their own regions (including Syria and Libya), instead of sending them to Afghanistan or Pakistan, where chances of getting killed or arrested are much higher,” Rana said.

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