Center for Strategic Communication

The Taliban claimed credit for a suicide attack in southeastern Afghanistan today that killed three Coalition soldiers and two civilian personnel who worked for the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team.

According to both the Taliban and Afghan officials, the suicide bomber targeted Zabul Governor Ashraf Nasiri’s convoy in the provincial capital of Qalat. The provincial chief of police said the convoy was struck as it traveled to a school, while the Taliban said they targeted the convoy as it was headed to “a gathering of foreign invaders to visit a newly constructed hospital near the enemy PRT building.”

The International Security Assistance Force confirmed that three soldiers and “two coalition civilians” were killed “following an improvised explosive device attack in southern Afghanistan,” according to a press release. ISAF did not provide the identities or nationalities of those killed.

The US State Department later confirmed that one of its personnel, along with a Department of Defense employee and three US soldiers were killed after their convoy was attacked. Four more State personnel were wounded in the blast.

Several Afghans were wounded in the attack; the governor’s car was damaged but he escaped the attack unhurt.

The Taliban claimed credit for the attack in a statement released at Voice of Jihad, the group’s website, which is published in English, Pashto, Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi. The Taliban identified the suicide bomber as “Munir, from the same province’s Khak Afghan district,” and claimed that “13 invaders were killed and 9 others wounded whereas 1 guard of the governor was also killed with 2 others suffering injuries.” The Taliban routinely exaggerate the number of Coalition and Afghan personnel killed in Taliban attacks.

Today’s suicide attack is the second of its kind in a remote area of Afghanistan in four days. On April 3, a Taliban suicide assault team killed 44 Afghans in an attack on a courthouse in the southwestern province of Farah.

Taliban, al Qaeda maintain a presence in Zabul

Zabul province remains contested despite the surge in US forces that began in 2010. Last month, Mohammad Daoud Gulzad, the High Peace Council representative in Zabul province, claimed that “there are six districts which are not controlled by the government.” There are nine districts in Zabul. And, last September, government officials said that the Taliban were forcing the closure of most of the schools in the province.

The province borders the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which serves as a safe haven, training center, and recruiting base for the Taliban.

Al Qaeda is also known to maintain a presence in Zabul, and ISAF has targeted al Qaeda operatives in the province. During one such raid in Zabul, on May 8, 2011, Coalition and Afghan special operations forces killed 10 al Qaeda fighters, including one from Saudi Arabia and one from Morocco, and captured a “Germany-based Moroccan al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator.” Security forces also “found passports and identification cards from France, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia amongst ten insurgents killed during the operation.”

Zabul was even mentioned by Osama bin Laden in late 2010 as an ideal fallback position for al Qaeda operatives seeking to escape the US drone strikes in North and South Waziristan. Kunar, Nuristan, and Ghazni provinces were also considered to be safe for al Qaeda members, according to one of the documents seized from his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.