The United States Air Force unveiled their F117 Nighthawk over the skies of Iraq in 1991; it has since been joined by the B2 Spirit. Both aircraft use stealth technology intended to aid its penetration role in order to survive extremely dense anti-aircraft defenses otherwise considered impenetrable by combat aircraft. The Taliban unveiled their own “Stealth Bomber” yesterday in Jalalabad, Nangarhar as a 50 year old woman was apprehended at a security checkpoint wearing a suicide vest. Evading radar isn’t an issue for the technology eschewing Taliban, Police and security checkpoints are. Deborah D. Zedalis’ “Female Suicide Bombers” for the Strategic Studies Institute, quotes a commander in charge of training future suicide bombers,
“The body has become our most potent weapon. When we searched for new ways to resist the security complications facing us, we discovered that our women could be an advantage.”
Female suicide bombers are nothing new, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party loaded a truck with explosives and put a 16 year old girl behind the wheel in 1985, killing two Israeli Defense Force Soldiers. Jane’s credits the Tamil Tigers with both extraordinary success-
“the only group to have killed two world leaders - the former prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, and the president of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa… The list of Sri Lankan VIPs killed in suicide attacks includes one president, one presidential candidate, the State Minister of Defence, the Navy Chief and various area commanders. No country has lost so many leaders in such a short period of time as Sri Lanka has to the LTTE suicide bombers.”
-and the earliest embrasure of the female suicide bomber with an estimated 30-40% of their suicide attacks using women as bombers. Chechen rebels, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad among others have made use of female suicide bombers. Since 2003, Al Qaeda has made the suicide bomber a routine occurrence in Iraq. Terrorist organizations use women as weapons because they provide certain advantages:
• Tactical advantage: stealthier attack, element of surprise, hesitancy to search women, female stereotype (e.g., nonviolent).
• Increased number of combatants.
• Increased publicity (greater publicity = larger number of recruits).
• Psychological effect.
Even a fundamental religious leader can overcome the conflicts posed by using women as “guided weapons”…
In January 2002, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, “categorically renounced the use of women as suicide bombers.” In March 2002 after the second Fatah bombing, he reported that “Hamas was far from enthusiastic about the inclusion of women in warfare, for reasons of modesty.” That position dramatically shifted on January 14, 2004, when the first Hamas female suicide bomber struck. Why was she used? Yassin defended this change as a “significant evolution in our fight. The male fighters face many obstacles, so women can more easily reach the targets. He concluded his statement by noting that “Women are like the reserve army, when there is a necessity, we use them.” Deborah D. Zedalis’ “Female Suicide Bombers” (emphasis added)
The Taliban and their sometime allies, Al Qaeda prefer to target the Afghan National Army and Police with their attacks, thereby alleviating high numbers of casualties to their limited forces and attempts at reducing the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Government. The Afghan National Security Forces (Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Afghan Border Patrol) have increased their capabilities significantly. In the past month an element of the 201st Corps of the ANA conducted a night time helicopter insertion followed by the cordon search of an insurgent safe house in Ghazni, an ANA Soldier was the Tactical Air Controller who guided American warplanes while they bombed insurgent targets during an Afghan led operation in Konar, and of course, the Afghan National Army successfully re-took the city of Musa Qala in Helmand. This increase in ANSF capabilities and professionalism means increased casualties to the Taliban/Al Qaeda fighters. When coupled with the ongoing increase of infrastructure, roads, electricity, schools, Mosque improvements and the resultant defections from their ranks is something the Taliban/Al Qaeda alliance can ill afford. When Al Qaeda in Iraq saw defeat looming on their horizon, they responded by targeting civilians, fomenting a spree of sectarian violence that was quelled by the growing capacity of the Iraq forces, its people and the influx of additional troops.
Once in the custody of the Jalalabad Police, the 50 year old woman claimed to be transporting the device to the intended bomber, a claim substantiated by the fact that the power source was not attached to the ignition system. But even if she was only serving as the mule, the Taliban have taken a significant step. All that is missing is the impetus to take the last step, as their situation continues to deteriorate, the perceived need to use women as suicide bombers will be provided.
Jane’s sums it up by stating
“A higher percentage of women have featured in off-the-battlefield suicide operations, which requires infiltration, invisibility and deception… For many reasons, women are the preferred choice of secular groups when it comes to infiltration and strike missions. First, women are less suspicious. Second, in the conservative societies of the Middle East and South Asia, there is a hesitation to body search a woman. Third, women can wear a suicide device beneath her clothes and appear pregnant.” (emphasis added)
The primary area a female suicide bomber retains her advantage as a “stealth weapon” is amongst a group of civilians. Al Qaeda has done it once before and the Taliban, already willing to martyr Afghan citizens, will do whatever they feel it takes to see themselves once again holding the reigns of power in Afghanistan. No matter how many Afghans they kill.