KABUL, Afghanistan — Coalition intelligence sources report a worrying shift in insurgency tactics as the remnants of the Taliban and the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan increasingly turn to Iraq-style suicide attacks.
Coalition forces say they are bracing for more attacks as terrorists try to destabilize Afghanistan ahead of Sept. 18 parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, American aircraft bombarded a rebel hide-out with missiles and bombs, killing up to 76 insurgents in one of the deadliest battles since the Taliban’s ouster almost four years ago, officials said yesterday.
A dozen Afghan policemen and soldiers also died in the fighting Tuesday that left bodies scattered across a southern mountainside and was sure to add to growing anxiety that an Iraq-style conflict is developing here. Five U.S. soldiers were wounded.
Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said Friday in an interview with the Associated Press that he had received intelligence that al Qaeda had brought a half-dozen Arab agents into Afghanistan in the past three weeks.
One suicide bomber attacked a funeral service for a pro-government cleric at a Kandahar mosque on June 1, killing 20 persons. Another rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into a U.S. convoy on June 13, injuring four servicemen, Mr. Wardak said.
The minister would not say how the suicide bombers entered the country, but coalition intelligence sources said men and arms usually are moved into Afghanistan through Pakistan.
Last week, members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan confirmed that they had received very specific intelligence about six suicide bombers.
ISAF troops in the city were warned to look out for cars of a specific make and color and with particular lettering on their sides. Security measures at ISAF camps were visibly augmented.
The alert level at the Canadian Camp Julien in southern Kabul was raised to “elevated” after somebody tried to plant a bomb on a road used by Canadian soldiers.
Canadian and other ISAF soldiers also increased their patrols of the embassy district in the exclusive Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul.
“It looks like there has been a regrouping of al Qaeda, and they may have changed their tactics not only to concentrate on Iraq but also on Afghanistan,” Mr. Wardak told AP.
Suicide bombings in Afghanistan have been relatively rare, and most are suspected to have been carried out by non-Afghans, said an ISAF officer who asked not to be identified.
The last suicide bombing in Kabul was in October 2004 on a popular downtown shopping street. An American woman was killed in the blast, although ISAF soldiers buying carpets appeared to have been the target.
A Canadian soldier was killed on Jan. 27, 2004, when a suicide bomber jumped into the soldier’s jeep and detonated explosives.
Since then, coalition forces have been targeted mostly with roadside bombs, rocket attacks and occasional ambushes.
Mr. Wardak said that he did not know whether Osama bin Laden was directing the shift in tactics, but that he doubted the terror mastermind was capable of day-to-day control of the terror forces.
“Al Qaeda, at the moment, based on our intelligence, has a more decentralized command and control,” Mr. Wardak said. “There might have been a general instruction [from bin Laden], but I really doubt he is in daily command and control of events.”
In an interview with New Zealand’s TV3 on Friday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said bin Laden is probably somewhere near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
Despite a surge in attacks that has killed 29 American troops and more than 70 Afghan soldiers and police officers since March, coalition forces deny insurgent claims of a spring offensive and say there doesn’t seem to be any coordination among insurgent groups.
Nearly 300 insurgents and terrorists have been killed in that same period.