Afghan troops kill, wound 25 'foreign fighters' in Nuristan


Afghan security forces killed and wounded 25 "foreign fighters" during an operation last night in a district in the Afghan northeast that was recently overrun by the Taliban.

"Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis" were among those killed and wounded during an Afghan operation in the district of Barg-e-Matal in Nuristan, Jamaluddin Badr, the governor of Nuristan province, told Reuters. The term 'foreign fighters' is used by the US military and Afghan officials to describe members of al Qaeda and allied terror groups in the region.

The foreign fighters were killed while crossing into Barg-e-Matal from Pakistan, Badr said. "We are aware of the situation here now that al Qaeda and other elements will try to infiltrate into Afghanistan," he told Reuters. "We have launched an operation to control border infiltration."

Today's clash with al Qaeda fighters takes place just two days after US special operations forces and CIA personnel killed Osama bin Laden and his son during a raid in Abbottabad deep inside Pakistan.

The clash in Nuristan also takes place a week after the International Security Assistance Force reported that it killed 25 al Qaeda fighters in an airstrike in the neighboring province of Kunar. Since September 2010, four senior al Qaeda commanders have been killed in Kunar and one more captured [see LWJ report, Saudi al Qaeda leader killed in Kunar airstrike].

Today's clash and the airstrike in Kunar contradict claims that al Qaeda has only 50 to 100 operatives in Afghanistan. These claims have been made by top US intelligence and military leaders, including most recently by General David Petraeus, the commander of ISAF.

Nuristan is a Taliban and al Qaeda haven

The district of Barg-e-Matal has been the scene of several large battles between Afghan and Taliban forces. During the summer of 2010, the district changed hands between the Afghan government and the Taliban four times.

The Barg-e-Matal district is a known Taliban and al Qaeda transit area to and from the northern Pakistani district of Chitral. In addition, large numbers of former Hezb-i-Islami fighters aligned with warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his top battlefield commander Kashmir Khan are also active in Barg-e-Matal. And criminal elements who dominate the illegal lumber trade and gem mines in Barg-e-Matal are also affiliated with Hezb-i-Islami commanders.

Barg-e-Matal borders the district of Kamdish, which has been effectively under Taliban control since US forces withdrew from combat outposts in the fall of 2009 after an attack by a large Taliban and al Qaeda force.

Less than six weeks ago, on March 29, the Taliban overran the nearby district of Waygal. Afghan police and officials abandoned the district center after hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters attacked from four sides. [See LWJ report, Northeastern Afghan district falls after Taliban assault]. Waygal, or Wanat as it is also known, is said to remain effectively under Taliban control.

In the fall of 2009, ISAF began withdrawing forces from remote districts in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province as part of its new counterinsurgency plan that emphasizes securing major population centers over rural areas. According to ISAF commanders, the remote provinces of Nuristan and Kunar will be dealt with after more strategic regions in the south, east, and north have been addressed.

The outposts in Nuristan and Kunar were initially created in 2006 as part of a plan to establish a string of bases to interdict Taliban fighters and supplies moving across the border from Pakistan. But the plan was not completed, because US forces were diverted to the south in Kandahar after the Taliban began launching increasingly sophisticated attacks.

The withdrawal of US forces from the outposts in Nuristan and Kunar provinces has provided the Taliban and al Qaeda with safe havens in the region. The Taliban are using these new safe havens to stage attacks in the north. The neighboring provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan, particularly the Jurm district, have seen a spike in attacks. In the past, Afghan intelligence officials claimed to have intercepted rogue Pakistani Frontier Corps personnel and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate agents penetrating Badakhshan from Kunar. The provinces of Badakhshan and Tahkhar had been peaceful up until 2009.

The US withdrawal from outposts in Nuristan and Kunar has also provided the Taliban with major propaganda victories. The Taliban released tapes showing large-scale assaults on the US outposts followed by scenes of the Taliban occupying the abandoned bases. Weapons and ammunition that had been hastily abandoned by US and Afghan forces were displayed by the Taliban in the tapes.



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READER COMMENTS: "Afghan troops kill, wound 25 'foreign fighters' in Nuristan"

Posted by Paul D at May 3, 2011 11:51 AM ET:

Always seems to be Arabs,Chechens and Pakis-enemies of the West/Freedom!

Posted by Charles at May 3, 2011 2:01 PM ET:

While OBLís house was a fortess,he lived in a military retirement community that also had the military academy next door. The impression you get is as of an old soldier the government wants to do right by.

But he had already passed his time. Five years ago now the Paki patrons the Saudis turned on AQ. And with the revolutions in the middle east the center ground of salafists have moved away from AQ.

It is not inconceivable that the Pakistanis ISI/military who are now lying when they say they took part in the operation could turn on AQ. But they would need the right kind of prodding.

Posted by ArneFufkin at May 3, 2011 2:30 PM ET:

25 enemy casualties. Good start to the Taliban's "Spring Offensive".

Posted by Ben at May 3, 2011 3:38 PM ET:

Hey,
you have mentioned many times that the U.S. seems to be downplaying the number of 'foreign fighters' in the Nuristan/Kunar area. I was wondering if you had any theories as to why they would be doing this. Also, do you have any information about them being confronted by this information and seeing how they react?

Posted by blert at May 4, 2011 1:38 PM ET:

Like the Battle of the Atlantic we might be at a flipping point.

The concentration of drones may have reached such a level that persistence over critical mountain passes is established.

For it would seem that this platoon had been picked up and profiled, remotely.

Like U-boats leaving their pens, Taliban platoons would appear to be most vulnerable during their border transits.

There was a time when the Taliban roamed in company strength. Such juicy targets pulled tac air from miles away.

Based upon prior experience, one would expect the Taliban to surge into the battlespace providing many an opportunity for hammer and anvil operations.

Posted by Johno at May 4, 2011 2:27 PM ET:

I missed the information regarding the drones.

What I read was Afghan forces killed 25 Wahabis. In early May the snow is still very deep on the two passes into Berger Metale from Pakistan. All you need is someone to stand on the path (it's about a metre wide) and say" You can enter my country over my dead body.".
Afghanistan will never be able to maintain a single drone let alone a competent Air Force so the quicker ISAF can train local forces who are willing to fight in rugged conditions like this and achieve kill ratios like this the sooner the ISAF can come home.

Abbotabad was a tremendous event but leaving aside possible actionable information it was largely symbolic. But this action in the snow of the Hindu Kush represents a path to victory which Afghans can achieve with ISAF support.

Posted by blert at May 4, 2011 5:17 PM ET:

Johno...

Near as I can tell, OBL was the go to money-man for the Salafist movements all over.

Sort of a franchisor of death.

And, like Hitler, he had no end of officers who'd pledged blood loyalty ( ba'it ) to him personally and to the cause of jihad under his banner/ co-ordination, etc.

The fog of war assures us that most of what the WH is releasing are lies. I would be stunned if it were otherwise.

But it is a pretty good bet that OBL didn't change his stripes -- he's a known organizational man. That's his forte.

So I rather believe that, like KSM, OBL maintained plenty of records that he must have assumed would never be captured by his enemies.

On the evidence, he was still a very important node in the AQ structure -- THE money-man!

Posted by Neonmeat at May 5, 2011 6:52 AM ET:

I hope this is a good indication that the ANA are finally getting their act together, that our training is now paying off and that they can begin to provide their own security at the same level previously enforced by ISAF.