“Sticky bombs” cast terror and chaos on the outskirts of a city

KABUL, Afghanistan – As he worked most of his working days, Mahbubullah Mohibi left his home on Tuesday morning in a white armored SUV with government signs as the deputy governor of Kabul province.

His driver was driving through the narrow streets of Kabul’s macro neighborhood when the SUV was shaken by an explosion. Mr Mohibi, 42, and his secretary have been killed and two bodyguards injured, a Home Office spokesman said.

Someone attached a homemade magnetic bomb to Mr. Mohibi’s vehicle, an increasingly common and deadly tactic aimed at government officials and other prominent Afghans in the capital.

The dull, crumpled echo of the magnetic bombing recently provided the daily sound for Kabul’s busy morning commute. The so-called “sticky bomb” exploded almost every day somewhere in Afghanistan in the fall – there have been dozens of such attacks in Kabul alone in the last six months.

A few hours after the attack on Mr Mohibi, a magnetic bomb killed Abdul Rahman Atshan, deputy head of the provincial council in Ghor province in central Afghanistan, and seriously injured the councilor sitting with him, a provincial police spokesman said.

And on Wednesday morning, a police officer and a government intelligence officer were killed in separate explosions in Kabul caused by magnetic bombs attached to their vehicles, a police officer said.

Magnetic bombs are part of a Taliban strategy aimed at rejecting terror and chaos among Afghans, especially in the capital, local security officials say. The attacks, coupled with the assassination of government employees, security forces and civilian leaders, and the assassination of militants, have highlighted the government’s inability to protect its own people – and efforts in the midst of growing public dissatisfaction and mistrust of Afghan leaders. to negotiate peace terms with the Taliban.

“This is a great achievement for the Taliban – each is like a news bomb in the media,” said Mohammad Arif Rahmani, a member of the Afghan Parliament’s Security Committee on magnetic explosives. “These bombs are spreading great fears in society.”

As part of an agreement signed with the United States in February that set a timetable for Afghanistan’s final U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban have pledged to curb mass accident attacks such as truck bombings in cities. But the group has rather expanded the use of magnetic bombs to show the extent of reaching the capital, as well as the government’s vulnerability, as it seeks leverage in the next round of peace talks, which are scheduled to meet again in Qatar in January.

Magnetic bombs have been used in Afghanistan since the first years of the uprising around 2005, as well as in Iraq. But the increased pace of such attacks this year has shifted the security equation in Kabul, forcing those joining the government to reassess how and when they use their vehicles.

Kabul’s chaotic traffic will benefit the bombers. Vehicles are often clogged in traffic jams where motorcycle attackers or passing pedestrians can facilitate the past and steal a magnetic bomb.

The capital today feels like a besieged city where something as prosaic as commuting is to be a source of dread and every car on the street becomes a potential death trap.

“The situation is so unpredictable – you don’t know what will happen tomorrow when you get in your car,” said Aiman ​​Mayar, 22, whose father, a Ministry of Education official, was killed by a magnetic bomb in Kabul three months ago. .

The official, Dr. Abdul Baqi Amin, was sitting in a ministry vehicle parked in a ministry parking lot the night before, his son said. Mr. Mayar, like the loved ones of so many other bombing victims, wondered why his father had been targeted – and how, despite government bodyguards and security precautions, someone had managed to attach an explosive device to his vehicle.

“I want to know how it is possible for a government license plate car to be detonated with a magnetic bomb, and the government doesn’t even know who or how it did it,” Mr Mayar said. “It’s been three months since they promised to investigate, but there was nothing.

The Taliban have taken responsibility for detonating some magnetic bombs, but are not claiming others, such as attacks on Mayar’s father and Mohibi, which exacerbate public fears that they could be targeted at anyone at any time for reasons they never explain.

The brazen attacks leave a lasting impression that militants can operate almost with impunity in the government capital, said retired Afghan general Atiqullah Amarkhel, who watched an uprising slowly quell Kabul in the early 1990s until Afghanistan’s Russian-backed government collapsed.

“Kabul is an open city – these Taliban live here and make their bombs here,” Mr Amarkhel said. “After each detonation of the magnetic bombs, the government becomes discredited.”

Magnetic bombs are usually assembled using plastic explosives and strong magnets, a government intelligence official said in a statement. Officials say insurgents smuggle explosives into Kabul using a so-called underground courier system belti.

The attackers try to mount the bombs as close as possible to the car’s fuel tank to cause the vehicle to catch fire. Devices can be detonated remotely with radio signals or a delayed fuse.

At the same time, the Taliban have launched more widespread attacks on government forces in rural provinces and remote district centers. Afghan civilians are often killed in crossfires. At least 212 civilians lost their lives in October, the deadliest month for civilians since September 2019, according to The New York Times.

Even low-level officials associated with the government have been targeted by magnetic bombs. In October, Yousaf Jan, an Afghan contractor hired to transport fuel for police vehicles, was killed by a bomb attached to a delivery vehicle in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.

Gul Nawaz, the entrepreneur’s cousin, said he had no idea who attacked Mr. Jan or why.

“All I know is that no one investigated his case and no one helped his family,” Mr. Nawaz said.

Magnetic bomb attacks are likely to continue. The device is a brutally effective weapon – cheap, precise and deadly.

“It doesn’t cost much and there is little need for facilities,” said Mr. Rahmani, a member of parliament’s security. – But it has a very big impact.

Fatima Faizi contributed by Kabul and Farooq Jan Mangal From Khost.