Over the past several months, the Taliban and allied terror groups have increased attacks on remote areas in northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. These attacks are often launched from across the border, by members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban in conjunction with groups such as al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The Taliban launched two such attacks over the past three days, one in the Kamdish district in the remote Afghan province of Nuristan, and another in the district of Upper Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.
The larger attack took place in Kamdish in Nuristan, when “hundreds of Taliban fighters, mostly Pakistanis,” crossed the border from Dir in Pakistan and targeted police checkpoints throught the district, Brigadier General Aminullah Amarkhel, commander of Afghan Border Police in the east, told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Scores of people, including 23 Afghan policemen, more than 40 Taliban fighters, and five Afghan civilians were killed during heavy fighting for control of the district, Jamaludin Badar, the governor of Nuristan, told Xinhua. General Amarkhel said 12 Pakistani Taliban fighters were killed during the fighting.
“Taliban insurgents, many of them foreign nationals, have retreated and the district is in our control,” Badar said.
Kamdish has been effectively under Taliban control since US forces withdrew from combat outposts in the district in the fall of 2009 after an attack by a large Taliban and al Qaeda force. In late 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. At the time, ISAF commanders said the remote provinces of Nuristan and Kunar will be dealt with after more strategic regions in the south, east, and north have been addressed. But with the announcement of the drawdowns of over 33,000 US forces and thousands more forces by other ISAF countries over the next year, ISAF will not be able to move sufficient numbers of troops to the northeast to tackle the problem.
Other districts in Nuristan are either contested or under Taliban control. The Taliban overran the district of Waygal at the end of March. The status of Barg-e-Matal district is unclear; it changes hands between the government and the Taliban frequently. Heavy fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban has taken place in Doab recently as well. Governor Badar claimed in May that an estimated “500 Arabs, Chechen, Pakistani, and Afghan fighters” were planning to overrun Doab.
Across the border, in Dir district in Pakistan, “[h]undreds of militants from Afghanistan launched a simultaneous attack on two villages early Wednesday morning, destroying three schools and 20 shops,” according to a report in Xinhua. Pakistani Frontier Corps troops backed by local tribal militias repelled the attack and killed 11 Taliban fighters, according to the report.
Since the end of April, the Taliban have launched three other major attacks into Dir and and the neighboring tribal agency of Bajaur. On June 16, five civilians were killed in an assault on a village in Bajaur. On June 1, a large Taliban force attacked a police station in Upper Dir, sparking three days of heavy fighting that resulted in 40 security personnel and 45 Taliban killed. And on April 22, a large Taliban force estimated at several hundred strong overran a Frontier Corps checkpoint in Lower Dir, killing 16 security personnel during a protracted battle.
The attacks on both sides of the border are directed by Qari Zai Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda leader who operates in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand, as well as in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Qari Zia leads forces in al Qaeda’s Lashkar-al-Zil, or Shadow Army [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’ for more details].