Sixteen years after the beginning of the US war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are still highly active, controlling broad areas of the country and continuing to target and kill civilians, political figures and military targets. As summer gets under way, they have a new weapon at their disposal – bombs concealed in watermelons.
Photographs emerged on June 20 showing a Taliban operative assembling a bomb and inserting it into a watermelon. While there have been no reports so far of Taliban operations using watermelons to conceal explosives, such techniques have been lethally effective in the past.
The United Nations reported record numbers of civilian casualties in 2016 - 3,498 killed and 7,920 injured – nearly a third of them children. Most of the casualties were in attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Afghan security forces suffered more than 6,785 deaths in 2016.
The Observers FRANCE 24 team spoke to Mokhtar Wafayi, the Afghan journalist who published the photos. Wafayi is a specialist in jihadist groups and their tactics.
"It's a way of getting a bomb past checkpoints"
These photos were sent to me by a source I have inside the Taliban. My source told me they were taken a week ago in Helmand province. They put a bomb inside a watermelon because they wanted to transport it somewhere. It’s a way of getting a bomb past checkpoints.
On the battleground the Taliban have been known to hide mines inside the dead bodies of Afghan soldiers, or in the bodies of dead dogs. When it comes to bombs, they use other methods in order to infiltrate protected zones and even high-security compounds. They sometimes conceal explosives in pots of cooked food or even among the pages of the Koran. They use these methods to get the explosives past the security cordon. Their operatives pretend to be a chef or domestic worker delivering an order.Photo sent by our Observer.
The Taliban use these kind of methods only when they want to hit an important target: for example, when they want to attack an official ceremony, or a high-level meeting of government officials or military personnel. For example when they assassinated former President Burhanuddin Rabbani in 2011, the explosive device was hidden inside a suicide bomber’s turban.
My police sources tell me that when the Taliban attacked the Kandahar governor’s guesthouse on Jan. 10, 2017 and killed 5 UAE diplomats, they smuggled the explosives inside a pot full of food then put them beneath a sofa. [Editor’s note: The Afghan Taliban deny any role in the guesthouse attack.] They have already used this technique many times. When the Taliban want to attack a public place, they don’t bother to hide the explosives in an elaborate way. They just place a bomb somewhere then blow it up.Photo sent by our Observer.
After I published these photos, someone contacted me via Facebook, writing in Arabic. They said I should not have published the photos and asked me to take them down. I took it as a threat from the Taliban. I checked the user’s account. He appears to be an Afghan because many of his posts were in Pashtun [the language of many people in eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban have significant support.]
The Afghan security forces manage to detect some of these attacks, but not all of them. Their training is not as rigorous as it should be. And sometimes the Taliban have sympathizers in the army that collaborate with them.