Afghanistan: Suicide bombing in Kabul kills six Americans; Hezb-e-Islami claim of responsibility suggests desire to increase influence
At least fifteen people were killed and 40 more wounded on 16 May when a suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of foreign advisors in Kabul. Six Americans were amongst those killed in the attack which was claimed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami (HeI). HeI last struck the capital in September 2012 when a female suicide bomber targeted the road leading to Kabul International Airport killing twelve people, including nine Westerners. The group rarely conducts suicide bombings and when it does it is generally to highlight Hekmatyar’s ability to destabilise the country. This incident was therefore likely a warning not to exclude HeI from any negotiations with the Taliban. In addition, Hekmatyar will want to reinforce his influence ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces.
The Taliban also retains a significant capability to strike Kabul. The last suicide bombing conducted by the group in the capital was outside the Defence Ministry during an unannounced visit by the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in March. This year’s fighting season is crucial for the group since it will seek to undermine President Karzai’s administration whilst strengthening its position ahead of any talks with the US and the expected troop withdrawal next year. It is therefore likely that attacks across the country will increase during the Taliban’s Spring offensive. In this period, nine US troops were killed in two separate bombings in Kandahar Province and three soldiers from the Georgian contingent were killed in a bomb attack on their base in Helmand Province.
Meanwhile, four of the eight Turkish engineers who were kidnapped when their helicopter was forced to land in Logar Province due to bad weather were released (see our previous Report). The Taliban described the move as a goodwill gesture and as we previously indicated, the group is unlikely to hold Sunni Muslims suggesting that the other hostages will also be released soon.
In the meantime, a Turkish businessman was kidnapped in Kabul. It is unclear who is holding him but the risk of kidnap will increase throughout the NATO withdrawal process due to an expected deterioration in the security environment. Criminal gangs, the Taliban and local warlords are all likely to increase such activities in the coming year.