Major fighting in Afghanistan's east and west


Afghan soldiers and Coalition troops have launched offensives against Taliban forces in Farah and Kunar provinces and killed more than 50 Taliban. The remains of a US soldier who was listed as missing in Kunar after a Taliban assault on an outpost on May 1 have been found.

The fighting in Farah broke out after the Taliban carried out public executions of three former government officials in the Bala Boluk district. The three men were murdered for working with the government, the provincial governor told Reuters.

Afghan soldiers backed by Coalition strike aircraft launched an operation in Bala Boluk, targeting the more than 100 Taliban fighters manning fighting positions in the district. The operation sparked major fighting. Twenty-five Taliban fighters and four Afghan soldiers have been reported killed in the battle, which has been reported to still be underway. Eight soldiers and 11 civilians have also been wounded in the clashes.

"The operation is still going on and casualty figures on both sides may change," Governor Rohul Amin said. "Civilians might have been hurt during the operations, but we don't have any figure yet."

The insurgency in Farah has intensified over the past two years. While attacks and violence are low compared to the hotter regions in the south and east, the Taliban has stepped up efforts in the southwest. Farah borders the insurgency-wracked province of Helmand and also borders Iran, which smuggles weapons to the Taliban across the border.

Battles in Kunar

Afghan and Coalition forces have also battled the Taliban in the eastern province of Kunar over the past several days.

On May 1, a large Taliban force, estimated at more than 100 fighters, attacked a combat outpost near the village of Nishagam, leading to a large clash that resulted in losses on both sides. Two US and two NATO soldiers were killed during the attack, and a US soldier was officially listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN) before his remains were recovered. Between 11 and 14 Afghan soldiers are also missing. Three Taliban fighters were also reported killed during the fighting.

The attack was likely the work of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, al Qaeda's elite paramilitary army [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army']. The unit has its roots in the 055 Brigade, which fought conventional battles against the Northern Alliance and US forces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a host of Pakistani jihadi terror groups have joined forces to battle both the Pakistani military in the Northwest Frontier Province and the NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. The Shadow Army contains fighters from each of these terror groups, and trains in camps in the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas. The unit is led by Abdullah Sa'id al Libi.

Afghan and US forces responded to the May 1 attack by launching an operation that killed 24 Taliban fighters. Four Afghan soldiers were also killed during the fighting, which is reported to be ongoing.

Kunar is one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan. Kunar is consistently in the top three in attacks and incidents, behind only Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

US forces have stepped up their presence in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province since 2005, building remote outposts and bases along established smuggling routes used by Taliban forces.

A host of Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied Islamist terror groups operate inside Kunar and in the Bajaur tribal agency in neighboring Pakistan. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Younus Khalis' Hezb-i-Islami factions operate in Kunar and in neighboring Bajaur in Pakistan. The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba also operates in the border region. Al Qaeda's senior leadership, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, are thought to shelter in the region.

Bajaur is a strategic command and control hub for al Qaeda. The tribal agency is administered by Faqir Mohammed, the local leader of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law) and the deputy leader of Baitullah Mehsud's unified Pakistani Taliban movement.

The TNSM sent thousands of fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces in 2001 and 2002, and continues to sponsor attacks in Afghanistan, despite a "peace agreement" with the Pakistani government that requires Faqir's followers to disarm, stop sheltering al Qaeda, and stop cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.



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READER COMMENTS: "Major fighting in Afghanistan's east and west"

Posted by C. Jordan at May 5, 2009 8:59 PM ET:

Bill,

Thank you for the report. Top notch as usual.
I've got a buddy who has just arrived over there,
so I look with even more zeal at the events unfolding
in the area.

And thank you troops, for fighting the barbarians
at the gate. These criminals need spanked.

Posted by Marlin at May 5, 2009 10:05 PM ET:

I wonder how much play the media can force this story to receive with Karzai in the United States?

Villagers brought truckloads of bodies to the capital of a province in Western Afghanistan on Tuesday to prove that scores of civilians had been killed by U.S. air strikes in a battle with the Taliban.

The governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said about 30 bodies had been trucked to his office, most of them women and children. Other officials said the overall civilian death toll may have been much higher, with scores of people feared killed while huddled in houses that were destroyed by U.S. warplanes.

Reuters: Truckloads of dead civilians after Afghan battle

Posted by Ron at May 5, 2009 11:39 PM ET:

I understand that i have been out of the loop for a while and have not followed much news but how have I missed this? Am I a fool or if this was a year ago would it have been all ove? Thanks Bill, I need to start reading again!!

Posted by Buff52 at May 6, 2009 12:10 AM ET:

The training camps, Jihadist indoctrination schools, and staging areas in North-West Pakistan must be pacified on the ground or it's "Ho-Chi-Minh Trail enemy sanctuary" all over again. That one is a loser.

Posted by BENGAL UNDER ATTACK at May 6, 2009 1:19 AM ET:

Do not know if this would be over simplification of a very complex problem :

1. The Taliban are like leaves (thousands) that grow on a tree. Cut the leaves and more trees will grow.

2. Cut the head of the tree, (Taliban leaders), the tree is mortally wounded but not killed.

3. Uprooting the tree by attacking at its roots - after all, without roots the tree will not stand. The genesis of roots are in NWFP areas of Pakistan - a most difficult area.

4. The fourth way as was stated by Garry Kasparov (yes the Russian chess player) to ex-Gen Pervez Musharraf during the recent Indian Today conclave in New Delhi was quite telling. He told the General: "Sir, you keep on talking of getting to the root of the problem and attack a tree at its roots. There is another way Sir. Do you think a tree can survive without water. No, it will not. This water is being provided by Pakistan Military and ISI."

Yes, what I am saying is old hat. Still, it should not be lost in translation, that whatever US troops do in Afghanistan, it will fight a losing battle - attacking leaves (Taliban foot soldiers) will do no harm to either the tree or the "water giver" - after all the water giver is the prime nurturer of the tree.

Posted by Robert at May 6, 2009 10:30 AM ET:

Neo,

Agree that Pak is not doing this for US. Pak is doing it for the leaders so that they can get US money of about $1.5bn/year.

It will be interesting to see how long the offensive of Pak Army(not Frontier corps) lasts after the funding is sanctioned.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the offensive started, after a lull (in Pak Army's involvement) of several months, suddenly started a week before Zardari's US trip to beg for funding.

Posted by David M at May 6, 2009 10:40 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/06/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Neo at May 6, 2009 2:03 PM ET:

To the contrary Robert, the way this has played out is complete coincidental to the money being offered by the US. It is finally dawning on the Army staff and Pakistani politicians of all stripes that it is their necks that are on the line. Even PML-N politicians who have sympathized with Islamist causes are getting increasingly nervous. The Taliban and their radical backers don't compromise and don't share power. Power sharing with the Taliban, forget it!

Oh, I am quite sure the politicians are cashing in and making arrangements if they have to make their escape. These same politicians are still ardent supporters of the Pakistani state, regardless of the fact they are corrupt. I would suggest that you grossly underestimate the degree to which they are incompetent and deluded. They just can't fathom that their the Islamic monster they have nurtured for years has turned on them.

Posted by anand at May 6, 2009 2:55 PM ET:

Fareed Zakaria had a segment on Mahar where he said that the Pakistani Army and ISI created all of these militias to fight India and to fight in Afghanistan. It is very hard to convince the Pakistani Army to fight their strategic assets now. He said that this was the case until a few weeks ago.

However, he mentioned a sea change in his interactions with long time Pakistani friends in recent weeks. He said that many of his friends who fiercely opposed drone strikes on Pakistan; now supported them; and were finally turning against the militants.

Anecdotes like this from the past few weeks are the most optimistic news I have heard since 2001. Could Pakistani public attitudes be changing?

Bill, could you share any analysis on how the 207th ANA Corps is performing in Farah?

You are aware of the substantial civilian casualties from CAS (Close Air Support) to the 207th Corps. Was this CAS necessary to save the 207th Corps? How would the 207th Corps have performed it it didn't receive CAS?

Posted by anand at May 6, 2009 2:59 PM ET:

Have the Italians and Spanish provided substantial support to the ANA in Farah? Or did the ANA have to fight with only SOCOM (Special Operations Command) support? Have the Italians and Spanish denied any ANA requests for support?

If the Italians and Spanish are actually fighting alongside the ANA in Farah; I'll apologize for any Italian or Spanish jokes I may have made in the past ;-)

Posted by Neo at May 6, 2009 3:37 PM ET:

Anand,

To the limited extent I allow myself optimism, I agree. I have been reading many other Pakistani sources that are changing their tune as well.

"Anecdotes like this from the past few weeks are the most optimistic news I have heard since 2001. Could Pakistani public attitudes be changing?"

An ounce of optimism to go along with a pound of skepticism.

Posted by tbrucia at May 7, 2009 7:32 AM ET:

Recognition of a problem (at last!) does not mean that the response(s) to the problem will be appropriate (unfortunately). The 'black boxes' conditioning responses are (1) military doctrine(s) and (2) the 'mindset' of those running the militaries.

Posted by Don Bistroff at May 8, 2009 8:00 AM ET:

Today's WSJ has reported a change in command for Afghanistan.

"The appointment of Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who holds the military's second-highest rank, hasn't been announced publicly, and his exact role in Kabul is still being discussed."

"Some of the Pentagon efforts are meeting resistance from the current military leadership in the region, including Gen. David H. Petraeus. Gen. Petraeus, as head of U.S. Central Command, is responsible for all American troops in the Middle East and central Asia, including overseeing Afghan war strategy. Gen. McKiernan reports directly to Gen. Petraeus."

I copied over the two paragraphs that seem to show a disagreement over command structure and how the war is preceding.

Beginning June 15th I have real skin in this war and will be following it with a microscope when possible.

Is the switch necessary or simply politics? Thanks.