Taliban's new tactics target civilians

The militant group has turned to Iraq-style tactics in Afghanistan, a report says.

Associated Press
Published April 17, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban and other militant groups are committing war crimes by targeting Afghan civilians, killing nearly 700 last year, according to a report issued Monday by Human Rights Watch that also pointed to dramatically escalating violence since 2005.

In the latest suicide attack against the Western-backed government, a bomber in the relatively stable north struck a crowd of police on Monday, killing 10 and wounding 32.

The New York-based rights group said the number of suicide attacks spiked to 136 last year from 21 the previous year as the Taliban turned to increasingly indiscriminate, Iraq-style tactics. The surge in violence made 2006 "the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since 2001," the report said.

Even when targeting government or Western security forces, "they generally kill many, many more civilians than they do military personnel," said Joanne Mariner, the group's director on terrorism and counterterrorism.

The rise in violence has shaken the government of President Hamid Karzai. Five years after the Taliban regime was ousted for hosting al-Qaida, fears are rising that Afghanistan is again sinking into conflict.

But researchers discovered in their interviews with witnesses, victims and relatives that most anger over civilian deaths was focused on the militants rather than Western forces.

"I lost my son, brother and nephew because of the Taliban. They say that they are fighting for God and Islam, but they are not; they are killing good and innocent Muslims and Afghans," a man identified by the pseudonym Abdullah was quoted as saying in the report. His shop was destroyed by a suicide car bomb last August in the south.

Human Rights Watch said it hoped the report could shame the increasingly radical Taliban into altering its tactics. "We don't think that change is easy, but they're not entirely impervious to pressure," Mariner said.