Birthplace of Martyrs: The Afghan Valley that Idolizes Its Suicide Bombers

The transition from insurgency to governance was never easy for the Taliban when it seized power in Afghanistan after a coalition of foreign forces led by the United States fled in 2021.

Some of the Taliban’s fighters were so used to jihad and fighting they reportedly felt bored when they had to switch their weapons to paperwork. In an Afghan valley that raised some of the organization’s best and most ardent fighters, some regret that they haven’t fulfilled their duties as suicide bombers for the Taliban.

One of these former fighters is 25-year-old Ismail Ashuqullah, who hailed from the lush green Tangi Valley in the eastern part of Afghanistan. The newlywed former Taliban fighter, like many young men from this region, had been fighting with the Taliban for years and missed the chance to perform his duty as a suicide bomber.

"When I was informed by my superiors that I had to join the battalion, I was delighted that God had chosen me. I felt a lot of joy," Ashuqullah told the AFP, reminiscing the news that he would be joining the Taliban’s special unit consisting of suicide bombers after eight years of fighting with them.

"I was doing jihad, but it didn't satisfy me. So I thought I had to carry out an operation that could satisfy the hearts of Muslims around the world, and mine too." Ashuqullah added.

The locals in the mountainous Tangi Valley have been proud that their area produced young men who worked as suicide bombers, where they were sent to their deaths in the name of jihad. 

The valley, home to about 22,000 people, was mainly under Taliban control throughout the war. Foreign and Afghan troops frequently targeted the area due to its strategic position, 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Kabul, the country’s capital.

Between 2009 and 2011, American soldiers occupied a base near the Tangi Valley, regularly conducting night raids in search of Taliban members.

Jihad in Islam may have a lot of meanings and cover a wide range of religious struggles, ranging from the private, personal, and spiritual realm to an actual war against perceived enemies of Islam.

Under their extreme interpretation of jihad and Islam, Taliban leaders taught their fighters that suicide attacks were the ultimate form of jihad.

"Obviously, the role of the Isteshhadi Mujahideen (suicide fighters) was prominent," Bilal Karimi, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said. "All the forces of the Islamic Emirate, especially these Mujahideen, fought with their national and Islamic spirit."

After the United States toppled the first Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban waged an insurgency against the Western-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for two decades. During this time, suicide bombings became a hallmark for the Taliban, not just because of their effectiveness but because of the trauma and fear they brought.

While the Taliban claimed that suicide bombers targeted foreign and Afghan troops, civilians comprised the most significant victims. A 2019 report by the United Nations mission in Afghanistan concluded that Taliban suicide attacks caused around 1,499 civilian casualties.

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