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AfghanistanThe TalibanTracking IED Harm

Tracking IED Harm: IED attacks in Afghanistan

This is a section of the report Tracking IED Harm. To read the full report, please click here. As part of this report AOAV examines organisation profiles and data, to read this please see here. From this research AOAV generated recommendations and conclusions based on the data found – these can be read here. The research was undertaken in response to the harm that the IED can cause and the relatively low awareness of IEDs in comparison to other weapons – for more on this see here.

IED Attacks in Afghanistan

The collection of data on the use of IEDs is crucial; it helps us to fully understand the impact of these weapons, frames the debate on trying to control their use, and allows us to grasp their human cost. Current data collection efforts, as shown above, do not capture the extent of the harm caused by IEDs. There is little knowledge about how the data which is being collected is subsequently used

by states, organisations and other bodies to limit attacks on the ground. This report has established that while there is a wide range of datasets cataloguing elements of the IED problem, none fully capture the global scale of the threat. In the second half of this report, AOAV contextualizes a specific dataset and its role in combatting the impact of IEDs. The report takes one of the field- leaders in IED data collection, run by the United Nations in Afghanistan and considers what is being done there in terms of data collation and in terms of a response to that data.

In Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is carrying out extensive data collection efforts into civilian harm, including that caused by IEDs. According to AOAV data, Afghanistan was the third most IED-affected country between 2011 and 2013, with 7,979 total casualties in 931 incidents. Of these casualties, 5,437 were civilians. UNAMA carries out data collection and analysis on the use of IEDs in Afghanistan, and can be used as an example of why such data collection is important in trying to reduce the harm the weapons cause.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was established by the UN Security Council in 2002. Its mandate has been renewed since then, most recently by Security Council resolution 2145 (2014). In relation to the collection of data on civilian casualties caused by IED events, UNAMA is mandated to:

  • “Monitor […] the situation of civilians”, which involves collection and analysis of data;
  • “Coordinate efforts to ensure their protection,” which is a challenge given the ongoing violence in Afghanistan;
  • “Promote accountability,” which can be achieved through the impartial use of data on civilian casualties.

Since 2007 UNAMA has published a comprehensive, impartial analysis of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, from conflict-related violence, in mid- year and annual reports. UNAMA also undertakes advocacy based on the findings of their data, aimed at strengthening the protection of civilians and “initiatives to promote compliance with inter- national humanitarian and human rights law, and the Constitution and laws of Afghanistan among all parties to the conflict.” The Security Council resolution also emphasises capacity building among Afghan organisations to enable data col- lection and associated protection efforts.

What does UNAMA data show?

IED data features prominently in the reports. UNAMA data shows that between 2009, when systematic records began to be kept, and 2013, IEDs were the primary cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

The data is stark reading. Civilian casualties from IEDs, including from suicide attacks, nearly doubled between 2008 and 2011. 2011 was the worst year on record to date. Civilian deaths caused by IEDs and suicide attacks reached a peak of nearly 1,400, accounting for 60 per cent of all fatalities attributed to anti-government elements.

The data shows that most IED incidents take place in the south, notably Kandahar and Helmand, and that this region showed a decline in the first half of 2014 compared to previous years – though they remained by far the most severely impacted.

UNAMA reporting also indicated, however, that civilian deaths and injuries increased in that time
in several other regions of Afghanistan. This might be explained by the fact that the Central region includes Kabul and 2014 has also been an election year, so a rise of IED attacks there might be said to reflect attempts to destabilise the political process.

UNAMA’s data collection has demonstrated that IEDs consistently pose the greatest threat to civilians in Afghanistan. Year on year, the majority of violent civilian deaths in the country are attributed by UNAMA to ‘anti-government elements’. Of these, IEDs were easily the leading cause. The simplest and starkest message of UNAMA’s data collection is that the most effective way to protect civilians from a brutal violent death is to tackle and reduce the incidence of IED use in the country.

Development of UNAMA casualty counting

The reporting of IEDs in Afghanistan was often basic, and sometimes confused, particularly in the labeling of device and initiation types.61

The development of UNAMA’s protection of civilians reports shows how a recording initiative can transform from basic data collection to a document that highlights specific threats, counters propaganda and is used to advocate for measures to reduce civilian casualties. To this end AOAV believes it to be a vital lesson for others to learn from, and is a model for future action for existing data collection efforts.

Notable, too, in the UNAMA report is their engagement with the Taliban, who are now sent a copy
of the report, and have responded to UNAMA and mentioned the need to avoid civilian casualties in public statements. This engagement with those behind the IED attacks with the data proving the human impact of their attacks is relatively unheard of.

Given the complexities of the situation, and as UNAMA themselves point out, calls from Taliban leaders to reduce the use of IEDs have not necessarily translated into a reduction of their use in the field. This is not to say a similar call in another environment would not have a demonstrable impact, however.

There are lessons that could be learned from the development of UNAMA twin data collection and advocacy work in Afghanistan which would have the potential to improve IED reporting and its use in attempts to reduce civilian casualties both in Afghanistan and in other countries.

Early reports

UNAMA’s first report on the protection of civilians in Afghanistan was published in 2007. This report was basic: comprising a count of fatalities (1523) and a list of incidents, outlining the events and the numbers killed.

UNAMA did include a definition of the classification of civilians for the report, as well as both pro and anti-government elements. There was a caveat that some information was not possible to verify, but there was not a full methodology given.

The 2007 report was descriptive, not analytical, and took no measure to identify the most lethal types of weaponry in terms of civilian casualties. In the individual incident accounts IEDs are classified by basic type, with vehicle-borne IEDs, body-borne IEDs, and general IEDs. There was
no identification of the specific impact or threat of victim-operated devices, such as those triggered by pressure plates (where the weight of a person or object presses a connection together, triggering a device) or trip wires.

The UNAMA 2008 civilian casualty report was significantly more comprehensive than the 2007 report. It recorded a 40 per cent increase in civilian fatalities from the previous year. There was a clear identification of the trend that IEDs (including suicide attacks) accounted for more Afghan civilian deaths than any other tactic used; UNAMA recorded 725 non-combatant deaths from IEDs in 2008, just over a third of civilian casualties that year.

A discussion of technical aspects of IED type was not included in the report, so there was no separate category for victim-operated devices. The report did count IED incidents, and identified the use of IEDs in crowded areas as a major cause of civilian casualties. The report stated: “Through- out 2008, insurgents have shown an increasing disregard for the harm they may inflict on civilians in such attacks.”

Notable developments to the 2007 report included an analytical overview of trends seen over the year, contained a clear methodology, and outlined some of the steps taken by groups to mitigate civilian casualties.

The report had a short section on civilian perceptions of anti-government violence. Suicide and IED attacks, combined with “violent intimidation” were noted for causing a loss of quality of life, income and “other forms of socio-economic hardships”.

The report contains information on the impact of IEDs, including their creation of a loss of quality of life, income, and “other forms of socio-economic hardship.” It also stated the disappointment felt by Afghan civilians that the Afghan government and the international community had not brought security to the country.

The difficulties in collecting data were explicitly addressed. The report cites a briefing to the Security Council made by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, who stated: “Due to limited access, we simply do not have a complete picture of the nature and scope of the humanitarian caseload in Afghanistan. For humanitarian actors, this lack of access is a constant source of frustration and concern”.

Expanding the report

2009 marked a sea-change in UNAMA’s approach to data collection. Looking beyond simply recording the national casualty toll without context, the 2009 UNAMA civilian casualty report put a far greater emphasis on civilian casualties caused by anti-government elements.

In 2009, 2,412 civilian casualties were reported
- of which 1,630 (67 per cent) were recorded as being caused by anti-Government elements, 596 (25 per cent) by pro-Government forces (PGF) and the remaining eight per cent not possible to attribute to either side. Almost half as many civilians were violently killed in 2009 as in 2008.

Over 1,000 civilians were killed in IED and suicide attacks. IEDs and suicide attacks were clearly identified as being the primary killer of civilians, accounting for 44 per cent (1,054) of all civilian casualties. The prominence of IEDs in the dataset was reflected in the attention given to these weapons in UNAMA’s report.

For the first time, the 2009 report separated suicide attacks (281 civilian casualties, 17 per cent
of those killed by anti-government elements) from other types of IEDs (773 civilian fatalities, 47 per cent of non-combatants killed by anti-government elements). The report noted: that “since the intensification of the insurgency in 2006, there has been a gradual but continual shift by AGEs towards the use of asymmetric attacks, such as IEDs and suicide attacks.”

It also documented the trend of complex attacks being carried out by groups. These were incidents in which multiple weapon types are used together in a sustained assault, often including both suicide bombers and others with conventional weapons.

As in the previous year, the report provides analysis that highlights that civilians are being killed
by devices that were intended to target military forces. Such information is crucial to know, and provides a solid basis for advocacy surrounding the argument that civilians bear the brunt of the harm from IED attacks, even when this is not their intended result. It shows that IEDs, as with other explosive weapons, can have wide-area effects that are difficult to limit and control to one target among a crowd.

The 2009 report, however, addresses neither the types of IEDs which cause the most civilian casualties, nor their deployment methods. The lack of this information leaves a major gap in the messaging that can be sent to anti-government elements, particularly over the use of indiscriminate, victim operated IEDs.

2010-2013: The Taliban respond

Held to account

By 2010 UNAMA recording and reporting had moved further towards becoming a mechanism
of accountability that aimed to advocate with all major groups involved in the conflict. A recommendations page was placed prominently at
 the start of the report. These recommendations encourage anti-Government elements to, amongst other things, collect and disseminate data on civilian casualties resulting from their actions, including IED attacks.

The Taliban appeared to respond to this request, opening the Department of Prevention of Civilian Casualties within their Military Commission. They operate a mobile telephone number, which appears still to be working, but after several calls made on behalf of AOAV in December 2014, remains unanswered. The role of the department has been noted, but its effectiveness and impact is in doubt: “Every caution should be taken to pro- tect life and property of the public during Jihadic operations, so that, God forbid, someone is harmed. The Department of Prevention of Civilian Casualties should seriously pay attention to its task to prevent civilian casualties.”

UNAMA’s recommendation is important, and all anti-Government elements should be encouraged to adopt it. This is particularly the case since it is still common practice for anti-Government elements in Afghanistan to deny or minimise responsibility for the fatalities and injuries they cause through IED attacks and other methods. The 2010 report showed the clear call-and- response of direct advocacy, and the power of stigmatising certain practices. While the changes implemented by the Taliban in this case may have had little impact, it showed that even non-state armed actors- often thought to beyond the reach of direct public appeal- respond to objective, evidence-led advocacy.

Since being ‘named and shamed’ by UNAMA’s reporting on civilian harm, the Taliban has consistently and specifically responded to the annual civilian casualty report, a fact that underlines its concern at the political and strategic, if not the moral, cost of being seen to have killed civilians. This engagement, however tangential, demonstrates the importance of data collection in engaging with those actors who use IEDs which result in civilian harm.

In the 2011 report UNAMA noted that Taliban statements had recognised the need to protect civilians. UNAMA noted, however, that their data showed that there was not a reduction in civilian casualties following these statements. Notably, Taliban statements showed that they were putting the “onus of civilian protection on the civilian population and not on the parties to the conflict”. An example of this was cited in the 2011 report
in the form of a call for civilians to avoid “gatherings, convoys, and centers of the enemy so that they will not become harmed during attacks by the Mujahidin against the enemy”.

In addition to referring to international humanitarian law, UNAMA used the 2011 section on Taliban statements to emphasize that the Taliban’s code of conduct – the Layha- also calls to minimise civilian casualties. The inclusion of this section was a useful development as it highlighted the fact that Taliban leadership called on its fighters to minimise civilian casualties; this could then be juxtaposed against the reality on the ground.

Changing Practice: Pressure-plate IEDs

Since 2011 UNAMA has used their data and messaging to advocate against the use of victim operated, pressure plate IEDs, for instance. UNAMA’s data demonstrates that these devices cause a particularly high level of suffering to civilians because they are indiscriminate in their means of detonation. UNAMA took the messages of this data to challenge the use of these specific devices in face-to-face lobbying in 2011 and 2012, reminding the Taliban that not only are they banned internationally but also violate the Taliban’s own landmine ban that the group set in place in 1998, branding the weapons anti-Islamic and anti-human. Victim-operated IEDs are considered de facto anti-personnel landmines in the eyes of the law, sharing their principal function and threat of detonating under the foot pressure of a person, be it child or soldier, without distinction.

Despite this, the Taliban responded with claims that they were not using victim operated IEDs.

It is difficult to draw a direct causal link between data that highlights the use of IEDs in a manner that causes civilian casualties and subsequent changes in Taliban tactics.

Perhaps the observation and engagement has had some impact, though.

In 2013 UNAMA noted a reduction in use of pressure plate IEDs by nearly 40 per cent over the previous year. If it did have an impact, though, it was short lived. This trend has not continued in 2014.

The comparative decline in pressure-plate IED use and impact in 2013 may result from more prosaic factors than direct evidence-based advocacy. It is difficult to distinguish battlefield tactics from responses to UNAMA messaging. Victim-operated IEDs, particularly pressure plates, have been 
used by insurgents to target military vehicles and patrols that used electronic counter measures (ECM) to interfere with signals to devices that were detonated electronically with initiators such as garage door openers and cell phones. ECM was commonly used by international military forces but is typically not deployed on Afghan security force vehicles and patrols, meaning they can be targeted with radio-controlled IEDs. Nevertheless, Afghan insurgents have had less use for pressure plate devices as international military forces protected by ECM have played a less prominent role since the draw down in late 2011.

While it is impossible to say with any certainty whether UNAMA data and messaging also had
an impact on the Taliban’s use of IEDs, the existence of such data is crucial. Without evidence, advocacy efforts lose impact and value. Without it, it is easy for violators of humanitarian and human rights law, for killers of civilians, to dismiss claims of bad practice and evade accountability.

Systematic and transparent data collection is the objective basis for hard conclusions that civilians are often casualties of IEDs planted to target military personnel or equipment, and that their use continues to cause destruction across the country.

As discussed earlier, in 2012 analysis of the Taliban’s public statements found that the insurgents may have sought to respond to UNAMA’s previous criticism of the use of victim-operated IEDs. The report stated: “Several statements provided examples of Taliban targeting criteria and elaboration of their IED tactics, with a particular emphasis on their use of operator controlled IEDs rather than victim-activated devices. The specific emphasis on targeting criteria and use of remote controlled IEDs is arguably aimed at countering findings and reports the Taliban used pressure plate victim- activated IEDs.”

Despite this claim, though, there is clear evidence of Taliban propaganda at work in this regard, as not all statements are backed up by hard facts. This was most notably demonstrated in a Taliban response to a UNAMA press statement on civilian casualties from victim-operated IEDs. In it, the Taliban claimed only to have used remote- controlled IEDs, rather than ‘live landmines’; this despite UNAMA having recorded nearly 300 incidents of the Taliban using these devices.

In one case, for instance, UNAMA found that the Taliban had claimed a strike that was later proven to have used a victim-operated device. This detailed breakdown of incidents and Taliban counter-claims is not exhaustive, but provides hard evidence that underlines the fact that the Taliban are using plenty of victim operated devices despite official denials.

Perhaps as a result of its persistent public pressure, in 2013 UNAMA noted a nearly 40 per cent reduction in the use of pressure plate IEDs com- pared to the previous year. This did not mean that IEDs declined in prominence however. Remotely- detonated IED attacks rose 80 percent in 2013. While theoretically allowing far greater control than the indiscriminate pressure-plate bombs, remote- control IEDs are still capable of killing and injuring civilians in great number, particularly when used in populated areas. Nevertheless, the decline in one of the most egregious IED types in common use in Afghanistan was an encouraging early indicator of the potential impact of evidence-led advocacy.

Sadly, conclusions are inconclusive at the time of writing, as the first half of 2014 saw a reversal of this positive trend, with an apparent return of pressure plate IEDs in Afghanistan.

2013: Taliban data collection

In 2013 the Taliban claimed that it had established a data and evaluation gathering ‘special committee’ under its military commission, intended
to document civilian harm arising from Taliban actions, including their continuing use of IEDs.

While welcoming this news, UNAMA highlighted several critical concerns that challenged the credibility and impact of this new committee. In particular, UNAMA challenged the Taliban’s definition of a ‘civilian’, publishing an excerpt from a Taliban definition which broadly covered elderly men, women, children and ‘common people’ living ‘ordinary’ lives, and noting that this was not in compliance with international humanitarian law.

UNAMA also argued that “It is also not clear how the Taliban defines ‘negligent acts resulting in civilian casualties’ for the purposes of its internal investigation and referral to a sharia court.”

The importance of UNAMA advocacy

As shown above, UNAMA’s advocacy uses data collection in three ways:

  1. Raising public awareness about the severity of the IED issue;
  2. Advocacy by UNAMA and the humanitarian community with ISAF / NATO and the international community on the need for increased resources allocated to counter-IED efforts. UNAMA shares figures and trends with ISAF, and has visited C-IED schools to find gaps in the Afghan National Security Force’s capacity and advocate for support from ISAF and the international community;
  3. Public reporting to encourage the Taliban and other anti-government elements to change the way they use IEDs to harm fewer civilians.

UNAMA has spoken of the challenges they face, such as the lack of access by their teams to locations where civilian casualty incidents occur for direct observation. Where possible, their investigations are based on primary accounts and on-site investigations, but occasionally this is not possible. They then must rely on reliable networks across all provinces and districts, using as wide a range of sources as possible that are evaluated for credibility and reliability. There is a lack of a strong justice system, meaning that perpetrators are not held to account for the illegal use of IEDs. This impunity makes the need for advocacy even more critical.

Without the UNAMA reports, there would be little public awareness about the broad scope of harm caused by IEDs. The UNAMA reports draw attention to the issue and pressure ISAF / NATO and member states to dedicate more resources toward C-IED. Due to the wide media impact of UNAMA’s reports, they are believed to reach a great part of Afghan society.

UNAMA’s negotiation with Anti-government elements may have had an impact on civilian casualties. They noticed, as stated at Chatham House in September 2014, a decrease in IED attacks directly targeting civilians, although civilian casualties of IEDs targeting ANSF members has increased and reached unprecedented levels due to the disregard shown for the indiscriminate and disproportionate impact of IEDs in civilian-populated areas.

UNAMA’s reports are crucial for both information raising and for continued advocacy efforts. Without them, the full extent of harm caused by IEDs in Afghanistan would not be known, and any advocacy work would be far less effective.

IED clearance

In May 2013, UNAMA conducted research
on legacy IEDs in Nawzad and Kajaki districts, Helmand province. They consulted
with community elders, district officials and local administration regarding the impact of IEDs on their lives. Ongoing conflict between Taliban and military forces from 2008 onwards displaced thousands of families from their homes, in some cases displacing entire villages. Villages remained displaced in 2013 due to heavy concentrations of undetonated IEDs.

Villagers were able to return to homes in areas that have been cleared of legacy IEDs and UXO.

Nawzad district: As of 29 May 2013, de- miners cleared 683 abandoned IEDs and 210 UXO from 2,660,432 meters of land

Kajaki district: As of 30 April 2013, the Demining Agency for Afghanistan had removed 81 abandoned IEDs and 1198 UXO since July 2012. They cleared 300 homes and 200 families have since returned. 
District authorities, tribal elders, teachers and medical practitioners told UNAMA of the positive impact of IED clearance programs on access to education, health, mobility and overall security.

Countering the IED threat

The Afghan Government

UNAMA’s data-led advocacy has also impacted on the response of the Afghan government.

In 2012 a National Counter Improvised Explosive Device Strategy for Afghanistan was brought in by the Office of the National Security Council. Signed in 2012, much of the strategy appears to be focused on transition of counter-IED (C-IED) strategy to the Afghan ministries and security forces.

The document recognised IEDs as indiscriminate weapons, and the major cause of casualties among Afghan civilians and military. Article Six includes the wording: “Terrorists use IEDs as their main tactic against the stability, security, economic and social development of Afghanistan.”

The strategy outlined is far-reaching, including efforts to attack the networks, prosecute perpetrators and limit supplies of lethal aid, including from transnational flows. An example is found in Article One of the document, which says: “A comprehensive approach ensuring intra-governmental cooperation and coordination is essential to ensure the protection of the population, and rightful prosecution of terrorists, thereby leading to a lasting peace and prosperity for Afghanistan and its people. In addition, IED and terrorist networks are not con- fined by geographical or jurisdictional boundaries, and therefore it is essential to engage with the inter- national community and enable international C-IED cooperation through diplomatic efforts.”

The C-IED strategy has five pillars of delivery – Rule of Law, Security, Governance, Diplomatic Engagement and Public Engagement. The strategy calls for a Public Engagement campaign that both provides education on the IED threat and discourages public involvement in illegal explosives activity. The C-IED strategy was published after the ban on ammonium nitrate ban, Presidential Decree 28, so many of the objectives refer to not supporting the illegal trade in materials that can be used to manufacture Homemade Explosives (HME) as well as more direct support to insurgent bomb making networks.

Afghanistan also has a comprehensive ban on ammonium nitrate and other precursors used to manufacture explosives. A problem is that there is not capacity to implement this effectively.

Sections of Article 32 include more general public engagement initiatives on the impact of IEDs:

  1. To incorporate C-IED training in all private and public education curriculums, including higher education.
  2. To enable Afghan Ulema, Mullahs and other religious scholars, religious centres, social, cultural organizations and religious shuras to educate people through all Mosques, work- shops and seminars about the un-Islamic nature of IEDs, and deliver C-IED safety messages.
  3. To encourage well known Muslim religious scholars in Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries to deliver verdicts on banning the use of IEDs and suicide attacks for killing civilians and innocent people.
  4. To deliver a multi-media programme that exploits all opportunities and mediums to ensure delivery and reinforcement of key messaging themes.

Public Engagement is an area where civil society and NGOs can carry out numerous activities. The recommendation, though, that religious leaders carry out public engagement will be difficult to implement. In the 2013 UNAMA civilian casualty report, it was noted that “threats and targeted attacks by Anti-Government Elements against mullahs (religious leaders) they accused of sup- porting the Government rose as attacks against mullahs and mosques tripled in 2013”.

The 2012 C-IED strategy does not include a requirement to record IED incidents or keep a database, among its 37 Articles. Article 12 does, however, state that one of the objectives of the strategy is to enable intelligence and information sharing. An accurate, transparent database of events would assist programmes operating under all of the pillars, particularly Diplomatic and Public Engagement.

Afghan IED figures would highlight the impact of IEDs and violations of the ammonium nitrate ban, in addition to assisting in planning for healthcare services and compensation schemes to aid victims of attacks.

Social media

Social media usage has increased sharply in recent years in urban Afghanistan. A member of civil society in Southern Afghanistan noted that social media has the potential to be a tool to raise awareness of the dangers of IEDs. Increases in phone ownership has also meant that access to social media is not dependent on computer access, so some use of this medium, providing messaging was appropriate, could potentially be used in rural areas.

There are, however, challenges to this simple and seductive IED-countering method. First, there is the threat that media consumers could be targeted as Taliban checkpoints exist in some areas, and monitoring activities include looking through phones for material that can be considered pro-Government.

Furthermore, showing some images is problematic in conservative areas in Afghanistan, as they can be deemed inappropriate.

Radio

Radio access is common in rural areas. A member of civil society in Southern Afghanistan told AOAV that radio broadcasts are key for informing rural populations of the danger of IEDs and impact of the weapons, in terms of casualties. Taliban also use radio broadcasts in many rural areas, and the member of civil society added that there was more need for elders, religious figures and members of the Government to speak out using this medium.

Radio’s relative accessibility means that it is more likely that counter-IED messaging will reach the large percentage of the population that is either internally displaced or living in areas where there is a heavy insurgent presence. Shura members from Northern Helmand, however, stated that while people may be receptive to radio messages they will be too afraid to take action while the Taliban have presence in the area.

Combating Taliban propaganda

Shura members from some of the most impacted areas in Afghanistan have described to AOAV a grim situation where Taliban propaganda is widely accepted, and change will be unlikely until civilians are separated from the insurgents. A lack of development was highlighted by residents from rural areas as a major barrier to the impact of counter-IED public engagement, particularly the failure to provide power which could facilitate access to outside information. Rumours are persistent in rural areas, including claims that attacks that cause high numbers of civilian casualties, and those in civilian areas such as mosques and bazaars, are carried out by “foreigners” in order to discredit anti-Government elements.

The danger posed to those speaking out against Taliban actions was highlighted in Kabul in December 2014 when a play condemning suicide attacks, titled ‘Heartbeat: Silence After the Explosion’, was struck by a teenage suicide bomber. One person was killed and more than ten injured in the strike at the French Cultural Centre. A Taliban spokes- man stated that the event was targeted because it was being held “to insult Islamic values and spread propaganda about our jihad operations, especially on suicide attacks.” The audience was made up of both Afghan and international civilians. Those injured included many of Kabul’s artists and cultural figures, as well as several Afghan journalists.

The threat of attack makes it difficult to discuss IED threats to civilians in open source, long-term Afghanistan researcher Antonio Giustozzi told AOAV. Residents from Helmand have claimed that independent local community leaders have complained to the Taliban’s Quetta Shura that certain fighting practices are severely impacting civilians and limiting support for the Taliban. They claim this has been met with directives from Taliban leadership to field commanders to avoid populated areas for targeting. From the data it is unclear whether this has occurred. If this type of negotiation is used it is only likely to take place in areas where residents are from the same tribal groups as key Taliban leaders.

A series of demonstrations in Kabul took place in early 2014 after major attacks, including a complex strike at a popular Lebanese restaurant where UN workers were among those killed and a firearms attack at the Serena Hotel, in which a well-respected Afghan journalist and his family were shot at close range. Demonstrators held banners stating ‘Enough is Enough’ and at least one commentator questioned whether it was the start of a nascent peace movement.76

In cities in the provinces such demonstrations have been markedly lacking. A worker at the AIHRC based in a major provincial city noted that civil society has not been active in these areas.

A further threat they identified is that individu
als are unwilling to put themselves at risk. The presence of Taliban sympathisers or informers is notable in many southern cities, likely driving fear in the communities.

Experts told AOAV that the condemnation of IED attacks to the Taliban in rural areas has not brought about change. They argued that there is not enough scope to increase protests in rural areas as religious leaders who are supportive of the Government have been secluded and com- munities cannot demonstrate in areas where the Taliban live among the people.