Three summers ago, I mentioned a Slate article about the stupidity of terrorists titled “Dumb Bomb.” It looks like the Atlantic liked the concept. This month’s issue included this story: “The Case for Calling Them Nitwits.”
Nowhere is the gap between sinister stereotype and ridiculous reality more apparent than in Afghanistan, where it’s fair to say that the Taliban employ the world’s worst suicide bombers: one in two manages to kill only himself. And this success rate hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks—or attempted attacks. In Afghanistan, as in many cultures, a manly embrace is a time-honored tradition for warriors before they go off to face death. Thus, many suicide bombers never even make it out of their training camp or safe house, as the pressure from these group hugs triggers the explosives in suicide vests. According to several sources at the United Nations, as many as six would-be suicide bombers died last July after one such embrace in Paktika.
Many Taliban operatives are just as clumsy when suicide is not part of the plan. In November 2009, several Talibs transporting an improvised explosive device were killed when it went off unexpectedly. The blast also took out the insurgents’ shadow governor in the province of Balkh.
When terrorists do execute an attack, or come close, they often have security failures to thank, rather than their own expertise.
Why are these terrorists so dumb? It’s the economy, stupid. Obviously, if two candidates to be suicide bombers have the same degree of zeal and fanaticism, it makes sense that the one who has less to look forward to and who may be a bit slower is more susceptible to being sucked into a terrorist plot.