The Taliban have quickly seized on the US withdrawal from two combat outposts in the eastern province of Nuristan to claim victory and assume control of the once contested region.
Just days after the Taliban claimed to fly its white and black banner in the district of Kamdish, a spokesman for the group said the US destroyed the two bases, and the district is now under the control of the extremists.
“This means they are not coming back,” Zabiullah Mujahid said, according to the Times Online. “This is another victory for Taliban. We have control of another district in eastern Afghanistan.”
The US military admitted it withdrew from Camp Keating and Camp Fritsche just four days after a major battle that pitted more than 350 Taliban fighters backed by al Qaeda and members of the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin against platoon-sized forces of US soldiers and Afghan police. More than 100 Taliban fighters, eight US soldiers, and seven Afghan police were killed during the fighting.
The Taliban briefly entered the outer perimeter of Camp Keating and damaged three Apache helicopter gunships, according to ABC News. Several Apache pilots were said to have been shocked by the scale of the Taliban assault. Most of Keating was destroyed during the battle.
US military downplays Taliban claims
The US military shrugged off Taliban claims of victory and said the closure of the two outposts was part of a planned withdrawal: “In line with the counterinsurgency guidance of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, ISAF commander, ISAF leaders decided last month to reposition forces to population centers within the region.”
“Despite Taliban claims, the movement of troops and equipment from the outposts are a part of a previously scheduled transfer,” read a US military press release. “The remote outposts were established as part of a previous security strategy to stop or prevent the flow of militants into the region.”
But the US military has not denied the Taliban now own the Kamdish district, which sits astride a Taliban ratline into Pakistan’s northern district of Chitral. US troops will no longer remain in Kamdish in an effort to “stop or prevent the flow of militants into the region.”
Despite the US military’s protests, the withdrawal from Kamdish will be viewed locally and regionally as a Taliban victory. A US withdrawal from the bases so soon after the attack, despite the reasons, which be characterized as the Taliban chasing US forces out. And the Taliban will be visibly in control of the district.
The propaganda value of the US withdrawal will be exploited by the Taliban. Video of the assault and the Taliban flag-raising, which was lead by Dost Mohammed, the Taliban shadow governor, and Mullah Munibullah, a senior Taliban leader in Nuristan, will very likely appear soon on Dost’s Tora Bora website. Several videos have been posted to the site over the past 24 hours, however attempts to download the video results in a message that the website has exceeded its bandwidth, indicating that numerous people have already downloaded the videos.
In August 2009, Dost’s fighters posted video of an assault on what appears to be an Afghan Army outpost on a remote mountaintop. The Taliban are seen at the base of the outpost and appear to have entered the perimeter. The body of a dead Afghan solider is shown. A US strike fighter is later seen bombing the outpost.
Taliban attempts to drive US and Afghan forces from eastern districts
Over the past year and a half, the Taliban and allied terror groups have launched several assaults in an attempt to overrun US and Afghan outposts and district centers in eastern Afghanistan. The assaults have several purposes: to seize control of districts, keep logistical supply lines to bases in Pakistan open, and to kill or capture US troops in an effort to weaken the will of the American public, thus forcing a withdrawal of US forces.
The Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Hezb-i-Islami, and al Qaeda launched eight large-scale assaults against outposts and district centers in Khost, Paktia, Paktika, and Nuristan in 2008, according to reports compiled by The Long War Journal. Six of the attacks were repelled by US and Afghan forces with no losses, but the assault in Wanat in Nuristan resulted in the deaths of nine US soldiers. The US withdrew from the outpost in Wanat just days later.
This year, the allied terror groups have carried out only two large-scale assaults in the East: last weekend’s attack in Kamdish in Nuristan, and the May 1 assault in Kunar that resulted in three US and two Latvian soldiers killed. One of the US soldiers was reported missing for several days before his remains were found and identified. Both attacks are considered to have been more effective than those in 2008, save the Wanat assault.
From the fall in 2008 through the spring of 2009, the Taliban and allied groups appeared to have shifted the focus from massed assaults on Coalition and Afghan bases to terror assaults by heavily armed suicide squads. These types of attacks are aimed at senior government, military, police, and intelligence officials, and have been launched in Nangarhar, Khost, Paktia, Kabul, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Helmand, and Nimroz provinces. Several senior police and intelligence officials, including the deputy commander of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, have been killed in the attacks.
Massed Taliban assaults against US and Afghan outposts in the East in 2008 and 2009:
October 3, 2009
US and Afghan troops at two combat outposts in Kamdish district in Nuristan repelled a Taliban assault force estimated at 350 fighters. More than 100 Taliban fighters, and eight US and seven Afghan troops were killed during the fighting, which saw the Taliban temporarily enter the perimeter. The US withdrew from the outposts four days later.
May 5, 2009
A large Taliban force, estimated at more than 100 fighters, attacked a combat outpost near the village of Nishagam in the Ghaziabad district in Kunar, 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. Fourteen Afghan soldiers were also reported missing. Three Taliban fighters were reported killed during the fighting.
July 27, 2008
Afghan police, backed by US soldiers, beat back a Taliban assault on the district center in Spera in Khost province. The Taliban force was estimated at 100 men. Between 50 and 70 Taliban fighters were estimated to have been killed.
July 13, 2008
A large, joint Taliban and al Qaeda force consisting of upwards of 500 fighters killed nine US soldiers during an assault on a combat outpost in Wanat in Nuristan province. An unknown number of Taliban fighters were killed. US and Afghan forces abandoned the outpost days later.
July 1, 2008
US soldiers killed an estimated 33 Taliban fighters after they launched an assault on a US outpost in the Spera district in Khost province.
June 24, 2008
Afghan and US forces killed 22 Taliban fighters while repelling complex attacks on the Sarobi and Gomal district centers in Paktika province, and the Zadran district center in Paktia province. The Afghan police stopped each of the attacks and called for US air support to assist.
June 23, 2008
US and Afghan forces defeated a large Taliban force made up of Afghan, Arab, and Chechen fighters who had attacked the Sayad Karam District Center in Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan police assigned to protect the outpost held off the initial Taliban assault, and called for US reinforcements. At least 16 Taliban were reported killed after US air support was called in.