Attacking “soft targets” saves the Taliban the effort, for the moment, of bypassing fortifications they would encounter in government and military facilities, or the time spent waiting to get a man in place on the inside. It also helps them demoralize the local population into submission by giving the impression they can strike anytime, and anywhere (just as Muhammad declared himself “victorious with terror“). And in the long run, these attacks will sap resources and manpower as authorities move to fortify those targets along with the traditional ones.
And the Taliban are all but assured no productive level of outrage from Muslims in Afghanistan or elsewhere. That outrage is reserved for real crimes like caricatures of Muhammad, and not for silly little things like suicide bombers attacking supermarkets and banks.
“Officials say deadly attack on ‘soft target’ reflects tactical change,” from the Associated Press, February 20:
A brazen attack in which five suicide bombers dressed in security force uniforms stormed a bank in eastern Afghanistan and killed 38 people is a sign that insurgents are increasingly going after “soft targets,” the government said Sunday.
These reports do not address whether the banks charge interest (riba), which would make them that much more of a target.
Saturday’s bombing – just as many members of the Afghan security forces were collecting their pay – was evidence that militants are seeking to attack places that are not heavily barricaded and fortified government buildings or military compounds, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.
“Unfortunately, we see that there’s a change of tactic in the terrorist attacks and they are targeting soft targets,” Bashary said at a news conference in Kabul.
Two recent attacks in Kabul also reflected the tactical change, he said. A suicide bomber attacked inside an upscale supermarket in Kabul on Jan. 28, killing eight civilians, and one attacked a Western-style shopping mall on Feb. 14, killing two security guards.
“In these kind of places – like city center in Kabul and Kabul Bank in Jalalabad – these are all areas where mostly people are going to do daily business,” he said.
“No one would expect that they would attack such places like a bank or shopping mall,” Bashary said.
Among those killed in the attack shortly before noon Saturday on a branch of Kabul Bank in Jalalabad were 21 members of the Afghan national security forces, including 13 policemen and seven soldiers. The other 17 killed were civilians.
A total of 71 people, mostly civilians, were injured, he said.
“Five armed suicide bombers entered the Kabul Bank building and started shooting,” Bashary said. “The incident happened while Afghan security forces were there to get their monthly salaries. That is why the casualties were so high.”
Since no one is allowed inside the bank with weapons, none of the Afghan policemen or soldiers collecting their pay had weapons to defend themselves.
He said bank guards tried to prevent the militants from entering the building. A gunbattle broke out between the guards and the militants, who were all wearing suicide vests.
During the fight, four of the attackers were killed and their suicide vests detonated. The fifth suicide attacker – a man from North Waziristan in Pakistan – was arrested and his vest was defused, Bashary said.