On a clear afternoon in March 2011, the relatively still air in Uruzgan’s Tarin Kot bowl was punctured by a blast wave and flame ball that rose more than 100 meters into the sky.
Insurgents had concealed an improvised explosive device within a motorcycle, and infiltrated it into the logistics soak yard outside the Multi-National Base Tarin Kot. The IED was set between two civilian trucks carrying highly flammable JP-8 jet fuel, which blazed through the soak yard when the device was remotely detonated. Several civilian trucks were destroyed and a small number of Afghan civilians were killed or injured in the attack. Importantly, Multi-National Base Tarin Kot was not breached, no military personnel were wounded or killed, and the loss of two tankers worth of aviation fuel had no impact on operations from the base. The soak yard, a force protection measure, worked as it should.
Militarily, the attack by Taliban insurgents was an absolute failure. As a propaganda event, the ball of flame, which could be seen throughout the Tarin Kot bowl, was spectacularly effective. Locals immediately assumed the attack was on the grounds of the base itself and the rumour network went into overdrive, describing casualties and damage. Local media, and their Western affiliates, quickly reacted to the event with reports of an attack against the base. Engagements by Uruzgan officials and ISAF Commanders did little to stem the tide of reporting that circled the globe, announcing a successful attack against the military base. No amount of explanation concerning the military insignificance of the attack could overcome a perception that the insurgents had struck at the heart of the Australian commitment to Afghanistan. Australia, and its ISAF partners, were on the receiving end of a burgeoning insurgent tactic now known as “propaganda of the deed”. Despite having the facts, Australian and ISAF Commanders were powerless to slow the spread of the ideal.
Read the Remainder at The Bridge