FOB Salerno withstands 2-day Taliban onslaught


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Forward Operating Base Salerno, situated north of Khost City, is a main Coalition hub for operations in southeastern Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the Market Garden Commemorative Committee.


Nearly 30 Taliban fighters attempted to storm a major US base in eastern Afghanistan a day after a double car bombing attack was attempted on the same base.

Forward Operation Base Salerno, the biggest Coalition base in southeastern Afghanistan, withstood Monday's failed car bombing attempt, but one of the bomber's managed to detonate his vehicle at the base's perimeter, killing 10 Afghans and injuring 13 others, according to a US military press statement condemning the attack. Afghan security personnel were quick to spot a second would-be suicide bomber and shot and killed the driver before he could detonate his car stuffed with explosives. A second man found inside the vehicle was detained by security forces.

The following day saw an estimated 30 Taliban fighters, including at least seven suicide bombers, launched a "wave of attacks against the base beginning around midnight," according to Arsallah Jamal, the provincial governor of Khost. Mortars and rockets struck the base shortly before midnight, a diversionary attack while the suicide-bomb cadre made its way near the base's air field. Three US soldiers and six Afghan commandos were wounded in the attack.

The Taliban attackers tried to breach the entrance to the airstrip contained within the base, an indication the Taliban may have wanted to detonate themselves on or near Coalition aircraft in what would have been a major propaganda coup for the Taliban.

The Taliban group was observed "posturing for an attack" nearly 1,000 meters outside the base's perimeter before Coalition forces opened up with small-arms fire, according to an International Security Assistance Force press statement. Helicopter gunships later pounded the Taliban's staging area resulting in the death of three out of seven suicide bombers.

Three other suicide bombers detonated themselves shortly before they were racked by heavy machine-gun fire. Afghan commandos are credited with surrounding the Taliban shortly before the attack could be launched, shooting dead several of the suicide-bombers before Coalition aircraft pounded the remaining fighters.

The double attack on FOB Salerno was claimed by the Taliban through their spokesman for their "eastern zone," Zabibullah Mujahid. He claimed 15 Taliban suicide bombers, backed up by a force of 30 other Taliban, managed to breach the base's perimeter and detonated at least one bomb within the airfield, killing a large number of American soldiers and destroying some aircraft. The Afghan Defense Ministry, ISAF, and the Coalition have all denied this allegation.

"This was a major group of terrorists in suicide bomber form, an attack on the Coalition forces base, and it was a major operation of the Afghan National Army commandos who succeeded in eliminating 10 suicide bombers before they could do anything," General Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, told reporters in Kabul.

A hornet's nest

The sprawling FOB Salerno, which now includes a state-of-the-art medical wing and burn center, is situated a few kilometers north of Khost City, the provincial capital of Khost. Several insurgent groups including the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the notorious Haqqani Network are active throughout the province, which borders Pakistan's restive tribal agencies.

The Haqqani Network has conducted a devastating car bomb campaign throughout the region this spring and summer, with the March 3 truck bombing of the Sabari district headquarters being the most spectacular. The building was brought down by an estimated four-ton truck bomb detonated by a Turkish-born German citizen who was recruited into the Haqqani Network in neighboring North Waziristan, Pakistan. Two US soldiers and scores of Afghan security forces were killed in the attack.

The province has undergone a flurry of other attacks including a massive frontal attack launched by the Taliban against the Spera district headquarters in late July. Provincial authorities later estimated between 50-75 fighters were killed in the fierce battle.

The early morning attack began when nearly 100 heavily armed Taliban fighters approached the Spera district headquarters, approximately nine miles from the Pakistan border, and engaged Afghan police personnel in a gunfight. Afghan and Coalition soldiers responded to the attack and drove the Taliban back using small-arms fire and helicopter gunships. Fleeing Taliban fighters were caught in the open and hit with missiles fired from aircraft resulting in the large number of Taliban killed, according to Afghan security officials.

Alarming discovery

Insurgents continue to use remote areas of Khost province as key logistical and training grounds for spectacular terrorist attacks. Both Siraj and Jalaluddin Haqqani were suspected of hiding in northern Khost between March and July of this year. And in an additional alarming development, insurgents in Khost have acquired a sophisticated batch of Type 69 airburst, anti-personnel rocket-propelled grenades, a deadly breed of munitions rarely seen in Afghanistan before a cache of 89 was unearthed during a Coalition raid in late June. The grenade is designed to bounce off the ground near enemy troops before exploding six feet off the ground unleashing 800 steel ball bearings into a kill radius of 15 meters. More ordnance including 25 anti-tank weapons and 25 mortars were also discovered in the same cache.

The source of the weapons has not been identified but it is likely the weapons were smuggled over the porous border with Pakistan. Insurgents in Iraq are known to use similar devices but there is no evidence these weapons came from Iraq.


For more information on the Haqqani Network and Khost province see:

The Haqqani Network: Reign of terror
In Pictures: A memorial ceremony at FOB Salerno, Afghanistan
Unprecedented Coalition strike nails the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan



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READER COMMENTS: "FOB Salerno withstands 2-day Taliban onslaught"

Posted by Alex at August 19, 2008 5:33 PM ET:

This is just stupidity. I don't mind if the Taliban wants to...downsize, but there is absolutely no way they can go toe-to-toe with the kind of firepower that the US can bring to the table.

Posted by Susan at August 19, 2008 9:57 PM ET:

My son is a Captain in the Army currently stationed at FOB Salerno. Thank you for detailed news like this article, you would never get details like this on US network news.
God bless our soldiers.

Posted by Joe at August 19, 2008 11:52 PM ET:

Susan,

God Bless your family.

Posted by David M at August 20, 2008 9:50 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/20/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Vader at August 20, 2008 10:26 AM ET:

Yea does seem to be a bit stupid. However, in a manpower rich, material poor enemy, this is the kind of probing attack to gather intel and experience ithat would be expected.

If dealing more damage to your opponent is a worthy objective; consider that the cost of equipping one of these fellas is about $150 each and if all were killed we are looking at a cost of $45,000 to the enemy vs millions of dollars required to eliminate this $45,000 enemy plus the chance of much greater losses if ever one of this thing succeeds. The goal of the strategy become clear. If they were not wiped out and some survived with intel and experience, then the apparent winners are not.

Posted by JusCruzn at August 20, 2008 10:44 AM ET:

I really don't consider the Taliban to be too smart. Aren't they the ones who WERE IN CONTROL OF AFGHANISTAN, until they gave safe haven to Bin Laden. Weren't they asked to turn him over to the US after 9/11. Until the Pak's can take control of the areas these hirabi's are using there, this will continue. Eventually the t-ban will kill too many innocents in Pakistan and then the Pak's will launch an all out attack on them like we had to do in Afghanistan after 9/11. It's just a matter of time.

Posted by flyonthewall at August 20, 2008 8:27 PM ET:

You are one tough Army Mom to be informing yourself on your son's moment-to-moment challenges. That "apple didn't fall far from the tree". Congratulations for producing a man of courage and honor, and thank you.

Posted by Nic at August 25, 2008 1:02 PM ET:

Would someone with a military background please answer the following question. Should pictures of an FOB be posted on the Internet? I ask this question because I wish to protect the men and women in the military. Op. Sec. comes first in my book.

Posted by Pam at August 28, 2008 5:24 PM ET:

My son, too, is a Captain in the US Army currently stationed at FOB Salerno. Even though it was difficult to read, I appreciate learning about what is happening on his base. I pray for protection daily for the men and women that are there and for all those serving around the world. God bless our troops!

Posted by A SOLDIERS MOM at July 20, 2009 9:27 AM ET:

Thank you for letting me see where this is my son is there and it makes me feel closer to him. He turns 19 soon and at least I know where he is.

Mom and Dad and family wish him a safe and happy birthday

Posted by Yolanda at January 16, 2011 9:06 PM ET:

Thank you for sending that picture, its great to see were your son was once at before getting stationed permantly.