Taliban govern openly in Nuristan


Dost Mohammed, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nuristan province, is interviewed on Al Jazeera.

One month after US forces abandoned outposts in the Kamdish district in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nuristan, the Taliban are operating in the open, without fear of retaliation.

The Taliban and their commander Dost Mohammed recently flaunted their control of the district to Al Jazeera. Dost, who some had claimed was killed during US and Afghan raids in Nuristan, granted an interview with the news organization from Kamdish. Coalition forces attacked the Taliban in mid-October after the battle of Combat Outpost Keating and the subsequent US withdrawal. Mullah Abdul Rahman Mostaghni, a district-level Taliban commander, was thought to have been killed in the raid.

The Taliban have created “administrative units and the officials have been appointed,” an unnamed commander told Al Jazeera.

“We also established the judiciary department and the commission for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice section,” the commander told the news agency. “We are working on providing people’s basic needs.”

The promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice section will enforce the Taliban’s strict, repressive brand of sharia, or Islamic law.

The Taliban also hold “scores” of Afghan police and soldiers who have been captured since the fall of Kamdish, and claim to have seized large quantities of US munitions left at Keating [see video below].

Local Afghans acknowledge the Taliban’s control and say they do not believe the government will return.

“The area is currently under the control of Taliban, who walk freely in the Kamdish District,” a local resident told Al Jazeera. “I do not think that the government plans to regain control over it. The local authorities, especially the security ones, are very weak and cannot do anything.”

Last month, the US military withdrew from Camp Keating, Camp Fritsche, and several small, remote outposts in Kamdish 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 entered the perimeter of Camp Keating’s defenses, 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.

The US military shrugged off Taliban claims of victory and said the closure of the 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,” the US military said in a statement released in October.

“Despite Taliban claims, the movement of troops and equipment from the outposts are a part of a previously scheduled transfer,” the military continued. “The remote outposts were established as part of a previous security strategy to stop or prevent the flow of militants into the region.”


Northeastern Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan. Map from the Asia Times; click to view.

The Taliban mocked the US after the withdrawal from Kamdish.

“This means they are not coming back,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in October. “This is another victory for Taliban. We have control of another district in eastern Afghanistan.”

Clearly, the abandonment of Keating and other outposts has ceded territory to the Taliban.

“Make no mistake, this is a setback,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “Somehow, some day, we are going to have to fix this. Until then, the Taliban has an uncontested safe haven in Nuristan.”

Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders operating in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand, and in the Swat Valley, have described developments in Nuristan as positive. The US withdrawal has allowed Taliban commander Qari Ziaur Rahman to reorient forces across the border in Pakistan and open new fronts while the Pakistani Army is focused on South Waziristan.

Al Jazeera video of the Taliban at COP Keating

The Taliban provide footage from what was formerly known as Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdish district in Nuristan province. The Taliban now are in full control of the district and claim to have recovered US munitions at the site.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.



  • What? says:

    It would be nice if we could deny the Taliban sanctuary in all of Afghanistan, but for the time being I think that aspiration is a bit unrealistic. Afghanistan is a 3rd bigger than Iraq in terms of area and is much more treacherous geographically and developmentally. Because of these facts it is important that our troops only put themselves in the most strategically adventageous area’s.
    I totally disagree with the following assessment:”Somehow, some day, we are going to have to fix this. Until then, the Taliban has an uncontested safe haven in Nuristan.”
    We have “uncontested” air superiority over Afghanistan therefore we can bomb anywhere at any time of our choosing. I am pretty sure that the Taliban forces in Nuristan are constantly on the defensive against that threat. If they are not than sooner or later they will pay the price.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    “We have “uncontested” air superiority over Afghanistan therefore we can bomb anywhere at any time of our choosing.”
    We have handcuffed ourselves from using airpower in Afghanistan in a way that would effectively contest control. And even if we hadn’t, it is no substitute for physically holding ground.

  • Bill Dames says:

    I agree with Bill. The present rules of engagement suck which also sucks for air strikes. I would like to see predators humming over these guys day and night but I don’ see it happening.
    If the rules of engagement are not made realistic I also have reservations about sending more troops which would be fresh targets.

  • Armchair Warlord says:

    IIRC, the number of actual airstrikes and fire missions coming down in Afghanistan did not decrease between new and old RoE, but civilian casualties have – substantually. This suggests that the new RoE are not preventing necessary fire support from being used and are successful at preventing civilian casualties, which was the intent behind them.
    The actual problem with the “bomb the insurgents” argument is that targeting insurgents with aerial weapons is pretty much totally ineffective in the absence of ground-based intelligence. And when we do get that kind of intel in Afghanistan as opposed to Pakistan, we send in ground troops for a raid instead of shooting missiles and hoping to kill someone important.
    I think the real question that we should be asking ourselves about this situation in Nuristan is whether it is actually made worse by American withdrawal of what few troops we had there from a handful of scattered and ineffective outposts in the district. I suspect that everything described in this article had been the situation on the ground for months beyond the range of COP Keating’s machine guns, and the Taliban are hamming it up for propaganda.
    The alternatives to withdrawal from Nuristan were either maintaining the situation (which was a non-starter) or massive reinforcement to do serious counterinsurgency in the district with troops we didn’t have. Given the amount of fuss being made over Nuristan, I wonder what people would think if we had pulled troops out of (insert any other Afghan province, all of which are more important than Nuristan, here) to reinforce it?
    It seems to me that the alternative of escalation in Nuristan would have played into the Taliban’s hands by forcing us to commit lots of people and logistical support away from crucial areas to a battlefield that is marginal at best. It strikes me that the Taliban haven’t been talking up a whole lot of successes in Helmand and Kandahar lately…

  • Neo says:

    I’m not going to get all bent out of shape about Nuristan in particular, when there are hundreds of other places also under Taliban control. What worries me more is that “over all”

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/12/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Spooky says:

    The rules of engagement may suck and be unrealistic, but any other way would probably put the civillians at risk (which has proven detrimental to the socio-political side of the war), and as others have said, air superiority means nothing without a ground strategy.

  • Cordell says:

    If the U.S. and NATO let this situation stand, how soon will the population in the rest of Afghanistan learn that it is extremely unwise to help and cooperate with ISAF troops? No doubt, the Taliban’s beheadings of locals who aided ISAF will make it into the Afghan news stream. As the Taliban like to say, “The Americans have the watches, we have the time.”
    Our rules of engagement must adapt to the realities on the ground. While NATO must avoid civilian casualties to retain Afghan goodwill, we must never abandon those locals who support us if we hope to win or retain their trust. Failure to use the weapons at our disposal to protect those who support us is just as bad strategically as an errant air strike that kills civilians. This is the Scylla and Charybdis of counterinsurgency warfare.
    If we had fought WWII with these rules, we would have lost. The civilians who lost family during Allied bombardment in France, Belgium, the Netherlands et. al understood that their loved ones died from Nazi aggression. Whatever the personal cost to them from the Allies’ use of weapons, they nevertheless cheered the U.S. and British forces when they later pushed the Germans out of their countries.

  • Meremortal says:

    I agree with Neo. Adminstration is infighting over troop levels, and the tempo of drone attacks in Waj is slowing.

  • G-Shoc says:

    Battles are lost and won but we never admit to losing it. Surge worked in Iraq but it didn’t work in Afghanistan, Taliban totally abrupt the elections and so it very difficult for us to make decision on sending more troops because we simply can’t fight them on the grounds. Any military strategy that is not sending more troops means a defeat!! We should admit to our losses and should learn from it which should encourage us and get us motivated for indeed a very long war. We just can’t be winning, winning and winning.

  • Dan A says:

    Are there good options to contain any militant infiltration from Nuristan to other provinces? If there are only a few entrance/exits from Nuristan, its probably a better option.

  • Solomon2 says:

    “If we had fought WWII with these rules, we would have lost. The civilians who lost family during Allied bombardment in France, Belgium, the Netherlands et. al understood that their loved ones died from Nazi aggression.”
    One of Churchill’s arguments was that there could be no 1943 (comparatively weak) D-Day invasion, nor any retreat from the Colmar pocket area, because abandoning a conquered population to Nazi control, even temporarily, would subject the civilians to Nazi revenge actions and decrease overall support for the Allies among the French. Now we see the wisdom of the old man’s convictions.

  • ramsis says:

    Was I the only one sickened by that video? How does all those american weapons end up in enemy hands? When they left that base why wasn’t that stuff destroyed? It’s only a matter of time before they use those against us. Someone should have to answer for that

  • Airedale says:

    Are they conducting suicide bombings and killing “spies” ? How about stonings?
    supposedly, they say there are some good talibs among the bad. so I say give it one month to see how well they govern the province minions.

  • jav says:

    cordell – what you said about the people who lost loved ones during WW2 because of the allied bombardment, and how they accepted the fact that it was necessary to put civillian lives at risk to win the war, to me, seems quite interesting. I find it interesting because the same can be related to the afghan war but not in the context you put it, let me explain. The nazis were the invaders and occupiers of europe, just like nato are the invaders and occupiers afghanistan. Do you think the people of afghanistan accept the fact that IEDs and suicide attacks kill civillians but are necessary to defend and push the invaders out of their country? I know this has nothing to do with the topic on nato airstrikes but i feel it had to mention it

  • Armchair Warlord says:

    Re: the video
    The only weapons I saw that I could positively ID as American were a belt of 40mm grenades. As this is Taliban propaganda they are of course free to use any belt of 40mm grenades that had fallen off the back of a truck in any random arms cache located anywhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Do you seriously believe we, the United States Army, would leave munitions around to be captured by the enemy?
    Re: the RoE
    Reducing civilian casualties is more important than killing every insurgent we see. Killing one insurgent a day will accomplish the mission faster than killing fifty at once and making a hundred new ones because you also killed a bunch of civillians.

  • Neo says:

    Precisely who are you representing as the “people of Afghanistan”

  • 39ladys says:

    IF the Taliban become an administrative units, that means they will have some functions of the government, This is a very important issue!

  • paul says:

    The problems are always with the districts that border Pakistan!
    Where do they get their funding/Training?ISI/Pak army!
    Bottom line Pakistan is the training ground for
    the Saudis end off!
    We are fight a covert war against Polictical Islam sponsored by the following Countries-

  • britsarmymom says:

    Ditto Paul. . .covert or proxy?

  • My2Cents says:

    AW said: “the number of actual airstrikes and fire missions coming down in Afghanistan did not decrease between new and old RoE, but civilian casualties have”
    The number of airstrikes is irrelevant, if we were winning the number would probably be decreasing. Can you supply any information about how are we doing in the following areas?
    • How has the ratio of insurgents killed and wounded vs. the number of civilians killed and wounded by Coalition forces changed?
    • How has the ratio of civilians killed by the insurgents vs. the number of insurgents killed by the Coalition changed?

  • Neo says:

    “How has the ratio of civilians killed by the insurgents vs. the number of insurgents killed by the Coalition changed?”


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