The Taliban and al Qaeda repelled an assault by a battalion of the Afghan Army along the Pakistani border in the eastern province of Laghman, and inflicted heavy casualties on the Afghan unit.
The fighting began on Aug. 4, when about 300 men from a battalion of the First Brigade, 201st Afghan Army Corps launched an offensive in Badpakh in Laghman. The attack took place in an area bordering Kunar province, a known safe haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The Afghan Army did not rely on US or Coalition forces to support its battalion-sized assault, which included an element air assaulting behind Taliban lines. According to The New York Times, the Taliban had information on the operation and laid in ambush for the main battalion force. The Taliban inflicted heavy casualties on the main force while the air assault team was cut off because the Afghan Air Force helicopters had been grounded due to weather. At one point in the battle, the Afghan Army Corps headquarters lost communications with the battalion.
One Afghan company is said to have been hit hard, with 13 soldiers killed and more than 20 missing, according to reports from Pajhwok Afghan News and The New York Times. Two policemen were also reported killed and four more are said to be missing.
The Taliban claimed to have killed 27 Afghan soldiers and captured 25 more. The Taliban are said to have lost 20 fighters during the clashes. Casualties on both sides could not be confirmed as the fighting is ongoing. Both sides, as well as tribal elders, have appealed for the Red Cross and the Red Crescent to intervene to help remove bodies from the battlefield. US and French forces have been called in to aid the beleaguered Afghan Army battalion.
The Taliban also captured and destroyed dozens of Army and police pickup trucks. A Taliban commander named Mullah Qahir is said to be driving one of the police pickup trucks.
Al Qaeda’s Shadow Army involved in fighting
The Taliban in Laghman who repelled the Afghan Army assault are thought to have been aided by the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, the military arm of al Qaeda which is made up of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Arabs, and Pakistani and Central Asian jihadist groups, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The Lashkar al Zil is also known as the Jaish al Usrah, or the Army of the Protective Shield. The Lashkar al Zil operates six brigades in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, including Brigade 055, al Qaeda’s original military formation, which was created during the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s. Units have also been established in Yemen and Somalia.
“The ability to defeat a battalion of organized forces, even the Afghan Army, in the manner which happened in Laghman, is no small task,” the official told The Long War Journal. “The Taliban force stood toe-to-toe with an army battalion, and routed them.”
Evidence of foreign involvement was reported in the Afghan press. One Arab and one Chechen were killed in the fighting in Laghman over the past 24 hours, according to Khost Radio News. A spokesman for the provincial governor claimed four foreign fighters were captured, but he did not disclose their nationality.
The Lashkar al Zil has been involved in some of the more high-profile, complex assaults in Afghanistan over the past several years, including an assault on a US outpost in Wanat in Nuristan in July 2008, the deadly ambush of a French battalion in Kabul province in August 2008, assaults on two combat outposts in Kamdish in Nuristan in October 2009, and most recently, a sustained assault in the district of Barg-e-Matal in Nuristan in July 2010.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have been stepping up efforts in eastern Afghanistan as ISAF and Afghan forces focus on tamping down the insurgency in Kandahar and Helmand in the south, according to General Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, the commander of the Afghan Border Police in the east. The Afghan Taliban “are being supported by other terrorist networks including Al Qaeda, Tajikistani, Chechen, and Pakistani Taliban,” as well as Taliban fighters from Waziristan, Mamozai told Larawbar and BBC Urdu. According to Mamozai, the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters stage across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Bajaur. The top commanders are Arab, Pakistan, Chechen, or Tajiks, Mamozai said.
• Afghan forces suffer casualties in Laghman clashes, Pajhwok Afghan News
• 20 Taliban killed in Laghman clashes, Pajhwok Afghan News
• Showcase Afghan Army Mission Turns Into Debacle, The New York Times
• Seven armed Taliban including a Chechen and Arab killed in Laghman province operations, Khost Radio News
• Report on fighting in Laghman province, TolAfghan
• Joint al Qaeda and Taliban force behind Nuristan base attack, The Long War Journal
• Taliban kill 10 French troops in Kabul province ambush, The Long War Journal
• US, Afghan troops beat back bold enemy assault in eastern Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
• Taliban seize district in northeastern Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
• Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’, The Long War Journal
• Al Qaeda Brigade 313 website goes online, The Long War Journal