Security Dilemmas and Roadside Bombs in Afghanistan

Two civilians were killed in an IED attack in Kapisa province today, the latest in what was already a bloody week for Afghanistan. On Monday, 10 civilians were killed and 29 others wounded in an IED attack in Herat province. On Wednesday, at least 5 people were killed by an IED in Helmand province.

Approximately 60% of civilian casualties so far this year were due to insurgent activities, the vast majority from IED or suicide attacks like these. I've been talking a lot with Afghan community leaders and NGO representatives recently about this problem and if there are ways of preventing or reducing such tactics. Some say that the use of IEDs or suicide attacks in populated areas might be reduced if religious or community elders respected by the Taliban spoke out against these tactics. However, given the personal risk entailed, it's easy to see why this type of protest is not as common as those against international forces. Even if community or religious elders were to speak out, it's not clear insurgents would listen, or be able to meaningfully enforce such tactical limitations. As I pointed out on my blog about the Taliban code of conduct, if Mullah Omar can't enforce limitations on civilian harm, then who can?

For this reason, other Afghan community groups suggest the key is better cooperation between the international military (who have the means to defuse IEDs) and local communities (who often have the situational knowledge to detect them). Certainly this seems to be what ISAF hopes to accomplish -- both to carry out their new tactical goals on population protection and because IEDs are also the leading cause of troop casualties. However, it's a classic chicken or the egg dilemma: Afghan communities will not give the international military such intel until they demonstrate that they can provide security; the international military may not be able to provide such security until they can get the necessary intel.