A suicide attack has torn through a crowded market place in Faryab, a province in northwestern Afghanistan, killing more than two dozen people and injuring many more. Initial reports of the attack, which took place in the Almar district, have so far been unable to pinpoint the precise number of casualties, with various Afghan officials placing the number of fatalities between 15 and 25 and the number of injured between 32 and 38. At the moment of going to press it is believed that all of the casualties were civilians except for one soldier and two police officers.
According to Naqibullah Fayeq, a provincial parliamentarian, the bomber – who was riding a motorcycle at the time – detonated his explosive when security forces stationed in the market stopped him to check his identity papers. The attack occurred at 11am local time on a weekly shopping day when the market was crowded with people. Deputy provincial police chief Baryalai Basharyar said that the “target of the attacker was military forces that were present in the area but the majority of the victims were innocent civilians.” So devastating was the explosion that Faryab’s one small provincial hospital and two clinics were rapidly overwhelmed, necessitating the transfer of many victims to hospitals in Balkh and other nearby provinces.
While previous years have seen the Taliban mount annual attacks on provinces to the south and east of the country, the militant group has in recent weeks launched a series of increasingly daring attacks in the north. In late June, Taliban militants captured the Chandara district in the northeast province of Kunduz after a protracted gun battle with Afghan security forces. While security forces were able to regain control of Chardara in a counter-offensive shortly thereafter, reports began to emerge that the militants were planning to push closer to the centre of the province. Also in June, Taliban militants snatched control of Yamgan district in Badakhshan Province away from Afghan security forces. These strategic victories have caught the Afghan government off guard and it has responded by re-arming militia groups to assist the regular soldiers defend threatened geographies.
So far, this and other initiatives have not succeeded in substantially reducing the Taliban’s capacity for insurgency. They continue to be active throughout Faryab where they control many important transport corridors to neighbouring provinces. In the weeks to come, Afghan vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum – who has been overseeing military operations in the area from his home province of Jowzjan – is set to lead a high-ranking delegation to Faryab in an attempt to resolve some of the issues that have contributed to the deteriorating security situation in the north. Should this prove successful, the Taliban’s territorial ambitions in the north might be thwarted long enough for the Afghan military to regroup and launch a counter-offensive, reclaiming territory lost during the spring/summer fighting season.