in Afghan Civilians

Thanks to a bomb of Golden Compass proportions in Paktika, someone at UNAMA got to be busier than usual today condemning all the bad things bad men do in Afghanistan. Since a UNAMA condemnation is about as relevant as a looming Kimye crisis and more harmless, it’s likely not going to do anything about possible future insurgent attacks both in Paktika and elsewhere. Besides cluttering up my inbox with UNAMA releases, though, today’s VBIED (Very Bastille Insurgent Exhibiton Detonation) should worry us a lot less than a Rick Perry presidency.

The Taliban ran away from this one faster than Bethenny Frankel’s dignity, going full Shaggy telling reporters (and the NSA, probably) that this wasn’t them.

“We clearly announce that it was not done by the Mujahedeen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

While the Taliban will never be accused of being too forthright, they tend to deal honestly with journalists. At this point in the interventiongasm there isn’t a whole lot to be gained by being the same bloodthirsty Taliban they were circa 2003. No one’s talking too loudly about sharing much power with the Taliban, but it’s in their best interest to run away from this sort of thing.

[Tweet “The Taliban disavowed the bombing faster than SNL dropped @brookswheelan. “]

While we sit quietly in our first world homes and secure locations in Kabul, retweeting links to Weird Al parodies, there’s little to directly worry us about a bazaar in eastern Afghanistan. But if you’re an Afghan who has to live there after the Americans have left with all the grace of Lamar Odom clearing out his Knicks locker, and 90+ of your friends and neighbors got all blowed up, it’s a problem. At least if you’re in Paktika.

Why Paktika? Is this the start of a larger trend? Or is it the last gasp of a dying insurgency that, Bauer-like, just doesn’t know when to go away?

The coalition’s capture/kill campaign did one thing really well: removed key insurgent leaders from the battlefield. We live in a world where JWoww is breeding, so killing off Taliban seems like a good idea.  Yet even though the Taliban are moving toward the kind of irrelevance reserved for fans of GTL, they’ve managed to inspire a lot of young folks to take up arms against the oppressor.

Events like this coming in mid-2014, coupled with the Taliban’s distancing themselves from the event, speaks to fractures within the organization and its affiliates. Or points to a larger disconnect between the Taliban and the worst-in-laws-ever, the Haqqani network. It certainly indicates that various factions in the insurgency are not terribly interested in negotiations after Afghanistan’s got a president again.

[Tweet “United we stand, divided we blow up Paktika.”]

What’s notable about this belated Bastille Day celebration is its severity and its method. While small scale explosive devices kill and maim more Afghans than any other war-related cause of bodily harm, large scale explosive events in the country are rare. With the exception of a few larger events in places like Kandahar and Kabul, the mass casualty producing car bomb has been a hallmark of insurgencies elsewhere, and are not at all common in Afghanistan.

So while analysts will likely point to this being the start of a worrying trend, and the CIA will shake their heads knowingly, it’s more probably an isolated incident. And while I’ve never been one to speak too soon of an insurgency’s demise, and for the people of Orgun it may not seem that way, this is the act of a flagging opposition to the Kabul government. And a bold statement about who still controls the Afghan countryside.

It’s a sign of a weakened insurgent network because this didn’t happen in an urban center. That speaks to the effectiveness of Afghan/coalition intelligence services at catching insurgents before they can assemble a large device. While a car full of explosives is a relatively crude affair, the logistics of putting together enough to kill 90+ people in a place like the bazaar are fairly complex.

The kind of effort required to put something like this together and detonate it means coordination. And coordination means people. People with phones. And at this point those people have a whole lot of other people listening to them.

[Tweet “This happened in Paktika. Which, is kind of a good thing.”]

They were forced to pick a target closer to their neighborhood. If this was the Haqqani (and given their history with car bombs, and where this happened, it almost certainly was), they couldn’t reach all the way to Kabul. So pulling something like in Paktika says something about their lack of ability to reach out and hit the city centers. Which they’ve done with deadly effect in the past.

This still sends a clear message to foreign forces and Afghans alike that Kabul can’t protect Paktika. Or Paktya. Or Ghazni. Or Helmand. In a country where the majority of the population is in the rural areas, this is less than ideal, but conversely the insurgents are finding it increasingly difficult to attack Kabul.

That doesn’t mean the insurgency is dead. It’s still a terribly active thing. But it is weak enough that its days of being able to consistently overwhelm Afghan forces are behind them.

Which is good news for the Americans. Good news for whoever sits next on the Arg throne. It’s not so great news for the people of Orgun.

  1. Or…It detonated prematurely en route to an actual target, a problem the insurgency has been struggling with for years and that is ruining its sex-life.

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