Counter-Terrorism: The Forgotten September 9, 2001

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September 12, 2011: While September 11, 2011 is the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States, September 9, 2011 is a rather more grim anniversary in Afghanistan. It was on September 9, 2001 that Afghanistan suffered its first suicide bombing. And it was a very special attack, as the target was Ahmad Shah Masood, the military commander of the Northern Alliance. Masood was very capable, and his leadership was critical to keeping the Taliban from taking control of all of Afghanistan. The Taliban never did accomplish that, because after September 11, 2001, the United States put warplanes, armed with smart bombs, at the service of the Northern Alliance. In addition, the United States flew in several hundred CIA agents and U.S. Army Special Forces operators, armed with guns and cash, to help the Northern Alliance turn the tables. By the end of the year, the Northern Alliance had accomplished what the Taliban never could, complete control of the country.

That first suicide bomb attack was done for the Taliban, by its al Qaeda ally. Since then, there have been nearly 740 suicide attacks in Afghanistan, with the Taliban and other local terror groups eventually taking over from al Qaeda.

There were no suicide bombings in 2002, and only 22 in the next three years. But in 2006 there were 136, and in the next four years there were 554, killing about 3,000 people. But this year, it all came to, well, a lot fewer. It appears that there will be only about 55 this year. While there are fewer now, they tend to be vehicle bombs (cars and trucks) that cause more casualties (nearly twice as many deaths per bomb as was the case in the past.)

It’s also been getting more difficult to obtain suicide bombers. Suicide in combat is not an Afghan thing. It was the Arabs who introduced this tactic, and most of the suicide bombers have come from religious schools in Pakistan (founded by Arab missionaries in the 1980s) where young boys are indoctrinated for years to become suicide bombers. But parents have become wary of the “free” education provided by these schools, and the young boys themselves have become harder to convince. Plus there have been fewer foreign (usually Arab) volunteers showing up to do the deed. By the 15th or 20th anniversary, this suicidal scourge may be gone from Afghanistan. And it is a scourge, because most of the casualties are Afghan civilians, even though the attacks are, in theory, aimed at foreign or local troops.

Meanwhile, the September 9, 2001 anniversary is well remembered in Afghanistan. Masood was a genuine national hero, whose untimely death robbed the country of someone who really might have united Afghanistan.

 


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