There is a lot of commentary this morning on the suicide bomber in Afghanistan who killed a number of people in what the Taliban claimed was an attempt to assassinate Vice-President Cheney. The attempt didn’t come close to succeeding, of course, and I think it’s safe to say that no one would send a suicide bomber to an Air Force base with the serious expectation that he would be able to enter the base and get close to the Vice-President.
So what significance does the attempt have? Until recently, suicide bombing has not been a tactic favored by the Taliban. When they were in power, of course, they had no need of it. But even after being ousted at the end of 2001, the Taliban tried to actually fight when it could. They have, of course, murdered civilians, but not mostly through suicide bombing, until recently. I read somewhere this morning that suicide attacks are up five-fold over the past year.
Suicide bombing is a tactic favored by the weak. It was developed initially by the Palestinians–the ultimate in weakness–and then implemented by Iraqi insurgents, who have little ability to engage coalition forces in combat. The Taliban’s adoption of the tactic is perhaps also born of weakness, but no doubt the perceived success of the Iraqi insurgents has also inspired the Taliban to imitate them.
The Taliban must be heartened by the reaction of many Americans to the ongoing violence in Iraq. The group’s leadership may have inferred that it can drive the U.S. and its allies from Afghanistan, not only by killing American soldiers, but through the much easier expedient of using suicide bombers to murder Afghan civilians. If that’s what the Taliban has in mind, the fact that the bomber got nowhere near Vice-President Cheney doesn’t mean that he failed. On the contrary, the massive publicity being given to the attempt, and to the resulting deaths of a number of innocent Afghans, most likely means that the bombing achieved its objective.
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