Taliban failing to qualify for Virgin Allotment.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban's suicide bombers have been selling their lives cheaply of late.

From Jan. 24 to Feb. 14, a total of 17 suicide bombers took aim at one coalition member after another but failed to kill any of them, according to a compilation of reports from Afghan police and military officials, and from the American-led International Security Assistance Force.

The latest failures were three suicide bombers who attacked an Afghan headquarters outside Marja on Sunday; local people reported them to the authorities, who shot them before they could set off their explosives, according to a spokesman for the Helmand Province governor.

ISAF officials credit better training of Afghan forces, and disruption of the bomb-makers' networks by NATO-led raids. Analysts say the Taliban no longer have foreign expertise in preparing suicide bombers, and have a hard time finding competent recruits in a society that until recent years had little history of suicide attacks.

According to a New York Times tally, at least 480 people were killed in 129 suicide bombings in Afghanistan in 2007, not counting the bombers themselves. That death toll dropped to 275 in 2009, even though the number of bombings had increased. A spokesman for ISAF, Maj. Steve Cole, said bombings in recent months have averaged 15 or 16 a month.

In three episodes during the last three weeks, the bombers killed innocent bystanders instead of their coalition targets. Six of the last 17 suicide bombers did not wound anyone beyond themselves. In all, those 17 bombers wounded 23 members of NATO or Afghan security forces, while killing 6 civilians and wounding 27 others.

A series of four episodes last Thursday, Friday and Saturday were illustrative of the recent attacks and near misses.

On Saturday, at a village in Kandahar Province, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle drove into a joint American-Afghan foot patrol and struck, wounding six American soldiers and five civilians, two of them children, but killing no one, according to the provincial governor's spokesman. (An ISAF spokesman said earlier reports that three Americans were killed were incorrect.)

On Friday, a suicide car bomber took aim at an American convoy in Khost Province, detonating as it passed, according to a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, who claimed that all the soldiers in two trucks were killed. A NATO spokesman, Maj. Matthew Gregory, scoffed at that, saying no coalition personnel were hurt. Also on Friday, a suicide bomber being pursued by ISAF forces blew himself up rather than surrender, according to the ISAF.

On Thursday, a man reportedly wearing a vest of explosives under an Afghan Border Police uniform penetrated a joint Afghan and American military base in Paktia Province in eastern Afghanistan, and exploded close to five American servicemen, wounding all five — but again killing none of them, according to the spokesman for the province's governor.

Asked about the attacks, Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, argued that ISAF forces were covering up the damage. “We fill those cars and vests using good techniques and lots of explosives but the American military will not let journalists go to the site of the incidents and make honest and real reports,' he said.

Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, an ISAF spokesman, called the recent phenomenon “a cumulative effect' of many factors. “The Afghan National Security Forces, in quality and quantity, are getting better and getting more experience,' he said.

“We're also targeting their command and control nodes and degrading their capacity,' he added, “both for bomb making and supplies.'

In the Thursday episode, for example, the suicide bomber got close enough to kill the American soldiers, but his explosives were not powerful enough, General Tremblay said. “If they had the right recipe, then those soldiers could not have survived,' he said.

Where suicide bombers have succeeded in Afghanistan, they have often been imports, not local people. A Jan. 18 attack involving at least two suicide bombers and other gunmen paralyzed Kabul for a day and killed five people, two of them police officers. The bombers, it later developed, had been smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan, according to Afghanistan's intelligence service.

Similarly, while the Taliban claimed responsibility for the Dec. 30 attack in which a Jordanian double agent blew himself up at a C.I.A. base, killing seven Americans and a Jordanian intelligence officer, the bomber's family maintained that he was working for Al Qaeda. In any case, he was not an Afghan.

“The Taliban cannot reach their strategic goals, so they just go and blow themselves up on the roads,' said Brig. Gen. Nawab Khan of the Afghan National Army. “In the end, they don't have any achievements.'

Mia Bloom, a researcher at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University, says their relative lack of recent success is due to a lower level of education, training and willingness among bombers here. “Many of them are coerced or duped into becoming bombers, and the bombers are generally not very excited about the prospect,' she said.

“Less-motivated, less-educated guys are more likely to make mistakes,' she added.

The Taliban's success in their suicide campaign, particularly in 2007, was largely due to foreign fighters from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, but that has become much more difficult now because of better border enforcement, she said.

Suicide bombings are an imported tactic that took root slowly here. In the first four years of the conflict, there were only five suicide attacks, according to a United Nations report in 2007. The report also noted that 80 percent of the victims were civilians.

In 2007, the Taliban enlisted a 6-year-old boy, put a bomb vest on him and told him to go up to a group of soldiers and push a button. They told him flowers would shoot out, but the boy was not naïve enough to fall for it; instead he told authorities and they managed to get the vest off safely.

“It just shows you they're not able to get the kind of volunteers in Afghanistan that you get in Israel, Sri Lanka or anywhere else,' Ms. Bloom said.

The Taliban's suicide bombers should not be dismissed simply because their body count is so low, General Tremblay cautioned. “They still are projecting terror.'

Dr. Bloom of the terrorism study center said, “There's also still a terror factor of course, but if the only person being killed is the bomber himself, it's sort of like Darwinian selection.'

The martyrdom testament videos that are so common in other countries are unknown here. “Such individual recognition,' said the United Nations report, “is largely absent in Afghanistan.' Instead, these suicide bombers are buried secretly at a potter's field in a wasteland at the foot of a mountain, at Kol-e-Hashmat Khan, a neighborhood of junkyards on the outskirts of Kabul. A policeman on duty there said no one ever visited. Many of the unmarked graves have been dug open by starving dogs, which feast on the remains.

Posted by: GolfBravoUSMC 2010-02-16