Sticky bombs latest weapon in Afghanistan's arsenal of war

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Security personnel inspect the site of a sticky bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 15, 2021. Sticky bombs slapped onto cars trapped in Kabuls chaotic traffic are the newest weapons terrorizing Afghans in the increasingly lawless nation. The surge of bombings comes as Washington searches for a responsible exit from decades of war. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL – Sticky bombs slapped onto cars trapped in Kabul’s chaotic traffic are the newest weapons terrorizing Afghans in the increasingly lawless nation, as Washington searches for a responsible exit after decades of war.

The primitive devices, sometimes made in mechanics’ workshops for little money, are used by militants, criminals or those trying to settle personal scores. Over the past year, one or more cars have been exploding in Kabul almost every day and residents are terrified.

The administration of President Joe Biden has alternated between coaxing and sharp words — even offering a ready-made peace proposal — to hurry the Taliban and the Afghan government toward an end to the conflict. In the Afghan capital last weekend, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said America wanted a “responsible end” to Afghanistan's relentless war. But in the meantime violence is escalating and taking the occasional new twist, such as the sticky bombs.

Kabul, a city traumatized by war, has been the scene of many suicide bombings and shooting attacks. But the heavy use of sticky bombs is relatively new, said former interior minister Masoud Andarabi. “What is new is that they (attackers) have created a simple model,” he said, noting that sticky bombs are easy to make for about $25 and easy to carry.

Some victims are targeted, while others appear to have been chosen at random, with the aim of terrorizing an entire population, Andarabi said. One motive appears to be to undermine faith in peace efforts among ordinary Afghans, with the Taliban and the government blaming each other for the chaos.

The campaign has had an impact, leaving motorists navigating Kabul's chaotic traffic wondering if the nearby car might explode, or whether a beggar weaving through the traffic might be carrying a sticky bomb.

Typically, sticky bombs consist of explosives packed in a small box, a magnet attached to the box and a mobile phone. The bomb-maker programs a number into the phone number and dials it, with the last digit setting off the blast once he is clear of the targeted car.

Tactics vary, say security forces. Occasionally, a small child begging for money will be used to distract the driver, while the bomber sticks the small box under the wheel well. A new ruse is to drop the sticky bomb from inside a hole cut near the gearshift of the attacker's vehicle as the target vehicle approaches from behind. When the target is over the small bomb it is detonated.