Amidst the disarray following General McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone, a much less reported but profound event marked the course of the insurgency in Afghanistan. The recent female suicide operation in eastern Afghanistan reveals not only a paradigm shift in Taliban insurgent tactics, but also a mutation of the organization’s founding ideology. On June 20, dressed in a long-flowing burqa, Bibi Halima walked up to American and Afghan soldiers on patrol in the Sheltan area of Shegal district in Kunar province with the intention of detonating explosives attached to her body. In recent months, soldiers have had reason to be skeptical of burqa-clad pedestrians. Many of the Haqqani Network’s fedayeen tactics in eastern Afghanistan have included men disguised in burqas, allowing them to approach or breach heavily cordoned buildings and district centers prior to opening fire or detonating explosives. But as NATO and Afghan counterinsurgency experience heightened, security forces became well adept at reading bodily gestures and cues that distinguished a man from a woman underneath the large Afghan dress. Until June 20th, this was a valuable force protection measure since not one of the over 430 suicide attacks in Afghanistan since 2001, was perpetrated by a woman. In comparison, women have executed nearly one in ten suicide attacks in Iraq. Until June 20th, NATO troops could rest assured that of the many insurgent tactics adapted from Iraq to Afghanistan, female suicide bombings was one that would likely never emerge.
“Female Suicide Bombers – The New Threat in Afghanistan,” Small Wars Journal, 23 July 2010.