Conflict Alerts # 183, 5 November 2020
In the news
On 2 November, gunmen killed 22 people and over 40 others were wounded in an attack on Kabul University. The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL, ISIS) group claimed responsibility, for what President Ashraf Ghani called a “despicable act of terror”. The attack is reported to have stated when government officials were arriving for the opening of an Iranian book fair organised on campus. The three gunmen rampaged through the campus, firing indiscriminately at their targets. The siege is said to have lasted six hours as Afghan forces and US commandos hunted and killed the gunmen. Vice President Amrullah Saleh accused the Taliban of the attack; however, the latter rejected his claims and accused the Afghan government of harbouring the Islamic State while condemning the attack. Further, this was the second attack on an educational institution in the capital in just over a week.
Issues at large
First, the spiralling issue of violence has reached the capital. The recent attacks show that the violence which has been very prominent in the Afghan countryside has made its way to the capital. The recent attack follows a suicide bombing on 24 October at an educational centre in western Kabul, where more than 40 people, most of them being high school students from the Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, died in the attack, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Second, the surge in Islamic State terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. There has been an alarming surge in IS terrorist attacks mostly targeting the civilian population in Afghanistan. The IS has carried out numerous high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent years, often targeting government postings and Shiite Muslims at schools, places of worship and other easily infiltrated targets. The main objective of the militant group seems to be to sabotage the intra-Afghan talks. Although there have been many campaigns to curb this terrorist group, it still maintains capable terrorist cells in cities like Kabul, protected by secure messaging apps and careful communication with outside leadership.
Third, casualties of the fighting leave a high toll on civilians. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report, nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace. The Taliban was accountable for 45 per cent of civilian casualties while government troops were responsible for 23 per cent and the United States-led international forces were responsible for two per cent. Further, most of the remainder occurred in the crossfire were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements.
The latest terrorist attack on Kabul University indicates the increasing capacity of the group to launch such a coordinated attack in the capital. However, this rising threat of the militant group cannot be effectively countered without the end of hostilities between the Taliban and the Afghan government forces.
Further, the surge in violence has become a challenging obstacle when it comes to the progress of the intra-Afghan talks which have been slow since their start in mid-September with diplomats and officials warning that rising violence is destroying the already minimal existing trust. Thus, the urgency remains to be the call for the reduction of violence.