Taliban govern openly in Nuristan


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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."

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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.



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READER COMMENTS: "Taliban govern openly in Nuristan"

Posted by What? at November 12, 2009 5:04 AM ET:

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.

Posted by Bill Roggio at November 12, 2009 8:32 AM ET:

"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.

Posted by Bill Dames at November 12, 2009 9:16 AM ET:

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.

Posted by Armchair Warlord at November 12, 2009 11:25 AM ET:

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...

Posted by Neo at November 12, 2009 11:36 AM ET:

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" we seem much less enthusiastic about taking the fight to the Taliban.

Posted by David M at November 12, 2009 11:47 AM ET:

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.

Posted by Spooky at November 12, 2009 1:28 PM ET:

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.

Posted by Cordell at November 12, 2009 1:35 PM ET:

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.

Posted by Meremortal at November 12, 2009 2:39 PM ET:

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

Posted by G-Shoc at November 12, 2009 2:45 PM ET:

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.

Posted by Dan A at November 12, 2009 4:07 PM ET:

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.

Posted by Solomon2 at November 12, 2009 4:15 PM ET:

"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.

Posted by ramsis at November 12, 2009 5:19 PM ET:

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

Posted by Airedale at November 12, 2009 6:00 PM ET:

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.

Posted by jav at November 12, 2009 8:38 PM ET:

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

Posted by Armchair Warlord at November 12, 2009 9:31 PM ET:

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.

Posted by Neo at November 12, 2009 10:19 PM ET:

Jav

Precisely who are you representing as the "people of Afghanistan"

You do realize that somewhere around half the actual "people of Afghanistan" are not Pashtoon to begin with, and to them the Taliban are outside occupiers. These people must count for very little since I hear no concern about their well being.

What about people who voted either for or against the current Afghan government. To the Taliban, none of the candidates or votes either way have an ounce of legitimacy. Democracy itself is illegitimate.

What about the people in Kabul and Kandahar who quietly live under the NATO backed government? Do they really desire to live again under Taliban rule? Shouldn't they be half as much up in arms about the illegitimacy and corruption of their own government as western antiwar activists seem to be.

Ah yes! We must go out into the Taliban controlled countryside in South Afghanistan to gauge the feelings of true Afghani's. If they don't support the Taliban willingly they certainly do so unwillingly. Make sure to ignore those fools that say otherwise, they'll surely be missing their throats before long.

Posted by 39ladys at November 13, 2009 5:55 AM ET:

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

Posted by paul at November 13, 2009 1:11 PM ET:

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-

SUNNI-SAUDI and PAKISTAN
SHIA-IRAN and SYRIA

Posted by britsarmymom at November 13, 2009 7:12 PM ET:

Ditto Paul. . .covert or proxy?

Posted by My2Cents at November 14, 2009 3:43 PM ET:

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?

Posted by Neo at November 15, 2009 10:16 AM ET:

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

Hard to say what that ratio was in the first place. The militants don't look any different than the civilians. As a practice, the militants remove their weapons and dead from the battlefield. The locals quickly bury their dead and don't take too kindly to inspection. If you are looking at a grave site there is no way you are going to tell whether it is a militant and civilian or an empty grave.

The whole statistics thing doesn't count for much with the Afghans anyway. It's more of a pet peeve for the press and policy wonks. The Afghans will put up with Taliban because they have too. There choice is either cooperate or die. The last thing Afghans want is to be in the middle of a fire fight between western forces and the Taliban. If western forces move into an area they must do it big and run the Taliban out of the area. You have to create areas of relatively safety. Other issues come into play like the training and retention of Afghan soldiers.