Suicide bomber on donkey kills 3 NATO troops in Afghanistan

<i>This post has been updated. See the note below for details.</i>

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber on a donkey killed three NATO troops and wounded four Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan’s Wardak province Tuesday, underscoring the often ingenious low-tech tactics insurgents have employed in the decade-long conflict.

The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed the deaths in a statement without giving their identity or nationality, in keeping with policy.

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of the province, said the attack took place about 8:30 a.m. as Afghan and international security forces conducted an operation in Sayedabad district in eastern Afghanistan. [Updated at 9:35 a.m., July 23: Khogyani said an Afghan interpreter working for the ISAF also was killed in the attack.]


In a statement, the Taliban took responsibility for the suicide attack and claimed that 14 American and Afghan security forces were killed and many more injured. The Taliban often exaggerates death tolls or takes responsibility for attacks initiated by others for propaganda purposes and to boost recruiting.

Insurgents have used donkeys for years, usually loading them with explosives that are remotely detonated when the animal wanders near a security patrol or when international and government troops pass by the tethered animal, analysts said.

“But this time it’s a bit different,” said Jawed Kohistani, a Kabul-based military and political analyst. “It’s rather new that a suicide bomber riding on a donkey manages to get close enough to the joint forces to reach the target.”

Analysts said donkeys are so common in rural areas and small towns this time of year, widely used to harvest crops and transport fruit, that soldiers often don’t perceive them as a threat.

The ability of the Taliban and other insurgent groups to shift tactics quickly and often imaginatively explains in part why the U.S.-led coalition has failed to stabilize the country despite the thousands of lost lives and billions of dollars spent since 2001, analysts added.

In cities, they often hide bombs in fuel or water trucks, sedans and minivans or use combined suicide and armed attacks that tend to work best in these environments. In more remote areas, they will hide devices in furniture, TVs or gas canisters. They have learned to encase roadside bombs in plastic, making them more difficult to locate with metal detectors.

On Tuesday, the U.S. government watchdog Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported questionable practices in the contracting of “culvert denial systems,” plates that allow water and debris to pass under roads while making it difficult to plant roadside bombs. At least two Afghan contractors committed fraud by billing the U.S. for nearly $1 million in systems that were either never installed or installed incorrectly, the group said.

In April, a bomb strapped to a donkey was detonated remotely in eastern Laghman province, killing a policeman and injuring three civilians, while last August a device strapped to a donkey in central Ghor province exploded, killing a policeman.

Analysts said diverse tactics used by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Pakistan-linked Haqqani network are aimed at driving international combat troops out of the country even earlier than their late-2014 withdrawal deadline. They’re also designed to undermine confidence in the Afghan government as a way of expanding the insurgent group’s future political influence.

“They are using all these efforts to inflict casualties on Afghan and foreign security forces to show off their power, take credit and exact revenge, employing common tactics of organized violence,” Kohistani said.


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Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Magnier reported from New Delhi.

Twitter: @markmagnier