Taliban, al Qaeda forces repel Afghan Army assault in eastern Afghanistan


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Map of Afghanistan's provinces. Click map to view larger image.

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.

Sources:

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



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READER COMMENTS: "Taliban, al Qaeda forces repel Afghan Army assault in eastern Afghanistan"

Posted by Mr T at August 13, 2010 4:22 PM ET:

"The Taliban force stood toe-to-toe with an army battalion, and routed them."

Now we know where a lot of enemy are. They are not in Pakistan either so Pakistan can not stop us from going after them. If they want to stand and fight, that should be good for us.

This sounds like a poorly planned mission. No coalition air support, advance knowledge by the Taliban, bad weather. Were the Afghans trying to prove a point?

The Taliban routed a battalion. They must have had a lot of men and equipment themselves.

I think the saying is, we will be back. We should go back there quickly before they have time to regroup and rearm themselves. We can resupply and reinforce quicker by helicopter than they can by mule. We should also be careful as the Taliban has shown some capabilities there. Whatever their capabilities, the coalition should be able to overwhelm them. This isn't the only place like that in Afghanistan either. One by one, we need to work on them until we can break their back.

Posted by Rosario at August 13, 2010 6:06 PM ET:

If the Taliban had prior knowledge there has to be a spy at a high level in the Afghan chain of command - bad news, one has to plug that leak. The good news is it sounds like Afghan army is gaining confidence to independently plan and operate large missions, something we do not hear much of these days.

Posted by TMP at August 14, 2010 12:40 AM ET:

There is some good within this mess.....but mostly bad regarding how all of this has played out, so far.

With that noted, we should be hitting this area hard. Running them back into Pak and then hitting those areas as hard. With boots on the ground (where possible) and by the air (let it be drones, if it must be, but it should be drones firing by the dozens....continually. Let the Reapers have open season.

We routing the Taliban out of Stan in less than 60 days. We could route and break alliances within these select Pak border regions within the same amount of time if we had the will.

Posted by KaneKaizer at August 14, 2010 4:29 AM ET:

The new Iraqi army wasn't so great in its early days either, granted it has been nearly 9 years. We've always known it would take longer for the Afghans to get on their feet though, it's good to see them at least organizing and launching an offensive on their own. There will be more opportunities for them to prove themselves.

Posted by Max at August 14, 2010 9:37 AM ET:

One can only hope the ANA learns the appropriate lessons from this experience, and does better next time.

Posted by Nic at August 14, 2010 9:57 AM ET:

@Rosario: On the down side, now the ANA enlisted man now knows that Higher has moles as probably suspected. What confidence the ANA enlisted men may have had in their leadership is now gone. To rub salt into a wound, the ANA look like fools because AQ is now driving ANA trucks. Sounds like a great YouTube video. Now the captured trucks have to be destroyed to prevent AQ from putting on ANA uniforms and then raiding ANA outposts. The next several battalion sized operations will need heavy US involvement to rebuild ANA confidence. There will have to be changes at ANA Higher. Time to go back to Square One. Any other additions to the above "to do" list by those in LWJ Land are welcomed.

Posted by m3fd2002 at August 14, 2010 10:56 AM ET:

You can't eliminate them until you find them. Whenever there is sustained contact, there is a good chance that you have located Chechnian merc's. These guys are tough, disciplined, and tenacious. However, they are no match for NATO forces. They can dominate Afghan regulars or police forces.

Posted by Bungo at August 14, 2010 2:55 PM ET:

I don't think there were necessarily "moles" in the Afghan Army. These boys were riding in on pick-up trucks from Lord only knows how far away to get to the target area. I'm sure the Taliban could see these guys coming from miles away or more probably their long range lookouts radioed in a warning and the Talibs had plenty enough time to dig in and prepare an "ambush". Bottom line is you can't really sneak up on these guys using existing roads and transporting hundreds of men in vehicles. Apparrently, what they didn't have was Recon letting them know what they were walking into.

Posted by Matt at August 14, 2010 5:58 PM ET:

I agree with the last comment. If the Afghans want to be successful in their attacks, their strategies require good intelligence first. The kind of stuff small teams of scouts can collect and report on, or even spies within the villages could collect while intermingling with the Taliban and locals. Know your enemy is the first part. (Sun Tzu)

The second part of this game, is know yourself. Meaning the Afghans need to know what exactly they are capable of, what they are good at, and what they are poor at. From their weapons usage, to air support, to logistics, to everything required for organized violence. They also need experience to learn that kind of thing, but they can also learn that through training and disciplined study of self and of the military arts.

For the attack, they needed to know their enemy inside and out, and they needed to know if their forces could actually handle the job. There is no room for 'hope' or 'wishes' with this game. They will also find themselves winning more battles with this approach. Success breeds success, and morale is lifted because of these victories. But they must put the effort into doing it right, or they will fail over and over again.

Posted by Render at August 14, 2010 9:58 PM ET:

Leathernecks read Sun Tzu? (Teasin ya Matt)

===

From the sat photos the area in question looks extremely mountainous (peaks up to 13,000+ft), kinda like parts of the Grand Canyon area, with far fewer trees. It also looks like there are a limited number of roads through the myriad valleys and passes. One guy with a decent set of binoculars can see a long way from the surrounding high ground.

Ambush Central. Tough area for choppers and radios. Some of the news reports are saying the whole thing took place in just one valley, which might mean that the ANA company convoys moved down a single road.

Their version of tier one is thick in the region. Pros operating with locals who know the ground and know where all the best fighting positions are.

Those passes were a huge transit point for the Muj during the 80's.

All of which reinforces Mr. Roggio's point about the mistake of abandoning Kunar.

===

Last coverage of this was 23 hours ago, (as I post this), is it still going on?

BAD
THINGS,
R

Posted by Neo at August 15, 2010 9:14 AM ET:

I've been a little too busy to comment frequently. I thought I would leave you with an article that covers the current strategic thinking on Nuristan province.

http://www.understandingwar.org/files/Afghanistan_Report_1.pdf

This particular article does a very good job explaining the situation in Nuristan. I don't tend to agree with all of the conclusions and underlying assumptions, but it is a very good article none the less. It's almost a year old but I don't think that really hurts the article. Chances are it is already linked to in the archives, but I haven't the time to look.

Posted by Doug at August 15, 2010 9:40 AM ET:

Why did we leave Kunar? I always thought that was a mistake.

Posted by Doug Pilant at August 16, 2010 9:06 AM ET:

Very interesting read that has a lot of good points to think about. Over the weekend I watched the National Geographic production called "Restrepo", which provided a lot of insight about the people living in the Koregal Valley.

Posted by James at August 18, 2010 7:18 PM ET:

Neo, thanks for the link. I've read that report with much enthusiasm.

It is crystal clear to me that the side that will prevail in that area, will be the side that seizes (and holds) the high ground first.

I'm no military historian. Maybe you might think I'm just an idiot savant.

We've got air superiority. They are stuck on the ground.

We could airlift everything that would be needed.

Another benefit with using a "trickle-down" strategy, is there would be little if any concern about antiaircraft fire. I don't envision AQ/Taliban lugging heavy antiaircraft weaponry up 12,000 foot peaks by hand and on foot.

They'd have the ideal "birds eye" view of the surrounding areas. Not only could they see into the surrounding valleys in Afghanistan, but also they could see into the border regions and maybe also well into the interior valleys of Pakistan.

This would be vital for targeting (and maybe even launching, if it can be done) drone aircraft. And, who knows, with enough drones launching enough attacks, just maybe they will get lucky and nail bin Laden ! ! !

I am convinced, with a good strategy, they could turn that entire region into a deathtrap and a huge graveyard for Al Queda and the foreign-based Taliban. This is a winning strategy. I am convinced that we can turn this thing around right there.

It may prove to be to bin Laden what Waterloo was to Napoleon.

They want to sneak across the border there, I say, let them in. Because it's "open-season" on their hides once they are in Afghanistan. Better that they "meet their Maker" there rather than they show up in Baghdad, or London, or (God forbid) "Anytown," USA.

Those villages where they have resisted all outsiders (even the Taliban) I say leave them alone. They are no threat to US.

They like to to say "clear, hold, and build?" Why don't we do the "clear" phase, let the Afghans do the "hold" phase, and let the humanitarian aid groups handle the "build" phase?

Again, this is just my own "two-cents" on this matter.

Posted by Render at August 20, 2010 6:29 AM ET:

James - Regarding the AAA guns. The Talib have and do manhandle 14.5mm guns right up to just below the peaks.

Otherwise your point about the high ground is well understood and utterly agreed with.

LITTLE
ROUND
TOP,
R

Posted by James at August 20, 2010 7:20 PM ET:

Render, thanks for the comments.