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Series of attacks marks the start of fighting season

AW has verified six explosions which took place between March 27 and April 6


7 Apr 2022

Above image: Mark Stroud

Over the last week, Afghan Witness (AW) investigators have identified an increase in bombings in various locations across Afghanistan.

An increase in attacks in spring aligns with what is traditionally considered the start of ‘fighting season’, which is thought to be triggered by a combination of three factors: poppy cultivation coming to an end, improved weather conditions, and recesses in madrassas in neighbouring Pakistan.

March 27, Lashkar Gah, Helmand

On March 27 at around 1100, an explosion took place in PD1 in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province. According to local authorities, the driver of the vehicle was transporting explosives which detonated and injured one person.

Initial reports did not indicate whether the explosion was intentional or an accident, however, multiple social media accounts tied to anti-Taliban groups claimed the explosion was carried out by resistance forces, although it is not clear which one. Accounts reported claims from the National Islamic Front and the Azadegan Front.

The claims said the attack targeted a Taliban vehicle, which injured two people and killed a Taliban commander, Maulvi Hanzaleh. AW investigators were able to geolocate the explosion to 31.575724, 64.359649, but were unable to verify the claimed casualties or the perpetrator/s.

Figure 1: Geolocation of explosion in Lashkar Gah.

April 1, Jibril, Herat

On April 1, between 1730 and 1840, a bomb attack [GRAPHIC] took place in Jibril, Herat. Jibril is a township near Herat city and is home to a large majority of Hazara Shiites. AW investigators verified that the attack occurred at the following coordinates: 34.367691, 62.145530.

Statements on casualties were inconclusive, with reports ranging from four to 50 deaths and 25 to 50 injuries. A list of victims’ names was later published including 29 names, although the list did not distinguish between killed or injured. From the reports, it is possible the list is of deceased.

The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) later claimed responsibility for the attack on Telegram, stating: “With the success of God Almighty, the soldiers of the Caliphate detonated two explosive devices separately on a gathering of the polytheistic Rafidah, in (District 12) in the city (Herat) yesterday, which resulted in the killing and wounding of more than 30 Rafidis, and praise be to God.”

Figure 2: ISKP claimed the explosion in Herat on their Telegram channels

Figure 3: Geolocation of the area of attack in Jibril, Herat.

Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, strongly condemned the attack and called on the Taliban to improve security measures to protect minorities in Afghanistan, particularly those frequently targeted in terrorist attacks, such as Shiites.

April 2, PD3, Kabul

On April 2, between approximately 1630 and 1700, an explosion took place in PD3 in Kabul. AW investigators verified the explosion at the following coordinates: 34.529969, 69.120606. The attack reportedly targeted a Taliban vehicle and was later claimed by both ISKP and the National Resistance Front (NRF). Based on previous incidents, AW would consider the ISKP claim more reliable.

ISKP stated on their Telegram channels: “With the success of God Almighty, the soldiers of the Caliphate detonated an explosive device on a vehicle of the Taliban militia. The apostate, in (District 5) in the city (Kabul), which led to its corruption and the killing and wounding of those in it, praise be to God.

According to Taliban officials, the explosion was caused by a road-planted mine and left two people injured.

April 3, PD1, Kabul

On April 3, an explosion [GRAPHIC] was reported in PD1 in Kabul, inside the Sara-e-Sahzada market, the largest money exchange market in Kabul. AW verified the explosion took place at the following coordinates: 34.516749, 69.179867. Local emergency NGOs reported the explosion killed one person and injured 59, however, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) said only three people were injured.

The Ministry of Interior reported that the perpetrator threw a hand grenade inside the money exchange market in an attempt to steal from customers. AW investigators were unable to confirm this version of events.

The exchange market does include entities closely tied to the Taliban, which could have been a potential target for anti-Taliban groups. According to the UK sanctions list, the Haji Khairullah Haji Sattar Money Exchange is located in the Sara-e-Sahzada exchange market. The Haji Khairullah Haji Sattar Money Exchange is on both the UN and UK sanctions list for assisting the Taliban’s leadership in transferring money to local commanders to fund fighters and operations in Afghanistan.

Figure 6: Geolocation of attack in Kabul

April 3, Fayzabad, Badakhshan

A second explosion on April 3 was reported in Fayzabad, Badakhshan. AW investigators verified the attack at the following location: 37.116531, 70.573904. The explosion was reportedly caused by a roadside mine. A claim from the NRF spokesman Sibghatullah Ahmadi suggested the Provincial Security Chief, Mawlawi Rashad, was injured in the attack and that two of his bodyguards were killed.

Figure 7: Geolocation of the attack in Fayzabad, Badakhshan

April 6, Pul-e Keshti Mosque, Kabul

On April 6, between 1300 and 1400, an explosion occurred around prayer time at the Pul-e Keshti Mosque in Kabul. The explosion was reportedly caused by an individual who threw a hand grenade into a crowd of worshippers. Between six and 11 people were reportedly wounded in the attack, but there were no fatalities at the time of writing. The state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported that the spokesperson for the Kabul Police Office, Khalid Zadran, said the suspect was detained by Taliban forces.

AW investigators verified that the attack took place at coordinates 34.515938, 69.180467, approximately 150 metres from the location of the attack at the Sara-e-Sahzada exchange market [GRAPHIC] on April 3. The attack was not claimed at the time of writing.

Figure 8: Geolocation of the Pul-e Keshti Mosque in Kabul

Taliban counter-operations

The series of attacks, including those claimed by ISKP, come just a few weeks after the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amir Khan Muttaqi, attempted to assure the international community that the Taliban had the ISKP under control and that they would not pose a threat to national or international security. In an attempt to illustrate the success of the Taliban’s counter-operations, he stated that ISKP had not carried out any successful attacks over the last few months. However, it is common in Afghanistan for conflict and clashes to dwindle during the winter months.

The incidents of the last week show that the threat is still very real and attacks are likely to pick up again over the spring and summer months. The security threat to the Taliban does not just come from ISKP however – the NRF has been vocal of its intention to increase attacks on the Taliban in the coming months.

Leader of the NRF, Ahmed Massoud, stated last week that as long as the Taliban does not install “a government based on the people’s mandate and a mechanism acceptable to all”, the NRF’s struggle will continue. Presumably, in anticipation of this lingering threat, acting Minister of Defence, Mohammed Yacoub, reportedly announced in early March that ‘everyone’ should be prepared for war against the NRF in Panjshir this spring.

According to several sources, the Taliban’s presence in Panjshir has since increased and forces have started to carry out counterattacks on NRF locations. There have also been multiple reports of clashes taking place between the NRF and Taliban forces in Hesarak, Panjshir Province, and Andarab, Baghlan Province.

Due to a lack of footage, AW investigators have not been able to verify these clashes at the time of writing, but will continue to monitor the situation, and verify incidents where possible.

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