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Chinook shot down over Taliban safe haven near Kabul



The New York Times account of the helicopter crash in the Saydabad district in Wardak province provides important details on the status of Taliban safe havens in the Afghan east. It is still unclear if the helicopter was shot down, but it appears to be the case. Thirty US soldiers, including more than 20 SEALs, and seven Afghan commandos were among those killed. Keep in mind while reading this that Wardak borders Kabul province. From the NYT report:

The Tangi Valley traverses the border between Wardak and Logar Province, an area where security has worsened over the past two years, bringing the insurgency closer to the capital, Kabul. It is one of several inaccessible areas that have become havens for insurgents, according to operations and intelligence officers with the Fourth Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, which patrols the area. The mountainous region, with its steeply pitched hillsides and arid shale, laced by small footpaths and byways, has long been an area that the Taliban have used to move between Logar and Wardak, local officials said.

Officers at a forward operating base near the valley described Tangi as one of the most troubled areas in Logar and Wardak Provinces.

"There's a lot happening in Tangi," said Capt. Kirstin Massey, 31, the assistant intelligence officer for Fourth Brigade Combat Team in an interview last week. "It's a stronghold for the Taliban."

The fighters are entirely Afghans and almost all local residents, Captain Massey said, noting that "We don't capture any fighters who are non-Afghans."

The redoubts in these areas pose the kind of problems the military faced last year in similarly remote areas of Kunar Province, forcing commanders to weigh the mission's value given the cost in soldiers' lives and dollars spent in places where the vast majority of the insurgents are local residents who resent both the NATO presence and the Afghan government.

The dilemma is that if NATO military forces do not stay, the areas often quickly slip back under Taliban influence, if not outright control, and the Afghan National Security Forces do not have the ability yet to rout them.

When the Fourth Brigade Combat Team handed over its only combat outpost in the Tangi Valley to Afghan security forces in April, the American commander for the area said that as troops began to withdraw, he wanted to focus his forces on troubled areas that had larger populations. But he pledged that coalition forces would continue to carry out raids there to stem insurgent activity.

"As we lose U.S. personnel, we have to concentrate on the greater populations," said Lt. Col. Thomas S. Rickard, the commander of 10th Mountain Division's Task Force Warrior, which has responsibility for the area that includes Tangi. "We are going to continue to hunt insurgents in Tangi and prevent them from having a safe haven."

Within days of the transition, the Taliban raised their flag near the outpost, said a NATO official familiar with the situation. Afghan security forces remained in the area but were no match for the Taliban, the official said.

The problem with weighing "the mission's value given the cost in soldiers' lives and dollars spent" in these remote areas, and then pulling back forces, is that it inevitably leads to the establishment of enemy safe havens. And that decision usually turns around to bite you, as today's incident demonstrates. If you are going to rely on helicopter raids to attack the Taliban on turf they own, you have to be prepared to have your helos shot down on occasion.

Note that the US Army is reassessing the drawdown in the Pech Valley in Kunar [see this article from Stars & Stripes and this story from ISAF], and is now redeploying US soldiers to Nangalam Base (formerly FOB Blessing), where another Chinook was shot down on July 25. The deployment at Nangalam will be smaller than it was before the drawdown. Afghan forces are going to be asked to shoulder the burden. But in the Pech, as in Saydabad, there is zero evidence that the Afghan Army is up to the task.

One other quick point: While the fighters in Saydabad may well be made up of "entirely Afghans and almost all local residents," as the NYT reports, "not all Afghans are created equal," as a US intelligence official often reminds me. The Haqqani Network, which is widely considered one of the most effective groups in Afghanistan and has close ties to al Qaeda, operates in this area of Wardak.



READER COMMENTS: "Chinook shot down over Taliban safe haven near Kabul"

Posted by CC at August 6, 2011 8:17 PM ET:

I dont understand. If the locals are hostile to both ISAF and the Afghan government then shouldn't they be rounded up and dealt with. Sounds like they are not reconcilable. Shell and bomb the entire area. If you cant attract the flys with honey then youre best off using option #2.

General Patton must be rolling in his grave... You don't win any conflict by being overly cautious.

Posted by Abu Layth at August 6, 2011 9:45 PM ET:

Locals are hostile!Well that is the case when you are an occupying foreign force, that share with the locals nothing.Not a culture or beleif or anything!
And I think the Americans would have carpet bombed the area "once again" if it wasn't for their empty pockets, not their kind hearts!

To conclude, "U.S. out"!

Posted by Brendan at August 6, 2011 11:16 PM ET:

CC,

That's the exact strategy used by the Russians in 79'-89'. As history will teach us, it was an ineffective strategy. Afghanistan is one of the most complex wars we have ever fought in. Victory will require us to fight smarter, not harder.

Posted by Mramirez at August 6, 2011 11:18 PM ET:

Our strategy is flawed and the only way to prevail is to increase our troop presence and eliminate the safe havens.

Posted by Frentzen at August 7, 2011 1:02 AM ET:

What is the objective?
Is the objective obtainable?
Is the objective worth the lives of more US men and women?

Posted by JLS at August 7, 2011 2:45 AM ET:


"As we lose U.S. personnel, we have to concentrate on the greater populations,"

so the strategy is to focus on larger populated areas as we begin to lower the amount of forces we have.....am i the only one that sees a problem here?

Posted by Marlin at August 7, 2011 11:59 AM ET:

Just a couple of comments. The first being that presence of ongoing fighting in the district seems to me to portend that this heartbreaking crash will not deter the Americans from trying to achieve their goal of pacifying Wardak and Logar provinces. The second is that I wonder if the AP's writer is correct. Does the presence of such a number of high value fighters on a single aircraft signal that they were after a high value target?

Afghan and American forces battled insurgents Sunday in the region where the Taliban shot down a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter a day earlier, killing 30 U.S. troops and eight Afghans.

The fighting was taking place as NATO began an operation to recover the remains of the large transport helicopter that was shot down by insurgents early Saturday in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Wardak province's Sayd Abad district, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of Kabul. The clashes Sunday did not appear to involve the troops around the crash site.

"There have been a small number of limited engagements in the same district as yesterday's helicopter crash, however those clashes have not been in the direct vicinity of the crash site," NATO said in a statement.

[...]

Although there are thousands of special operations forces in Afghanistan, often taking part in dozens of night raids a month, their deployment in the raid in which the helicopter crashed would suggest that the target was a high-ranking insurgent figure. However, there has been no official word on the target of the raid.

Associated Press: NATO, Afghan forces fight insurgents near crash

Posted by villiger at August 7, 2011 12:17 PM ET:

The strategy is a piece of swiss cheese with large bubbles. Unfortunately, these things are going to happen. Especially when the calculus isn't panning out.

I put it down to the US having taken its eye off the ball and invaded Iraq. No matter what that outcome, America is still paying a serious price for it in AfPak. That war also weakened the US economy so you're fighting off the back-foot now.

Secondly, the wasteful energy (not to mention money) expended on Pakistan with little to show for other than a downward spiral running away with itself, where no one has a clue with what might happen with their nukes one day.

Ten years in, what a mess.

Posted by Fr4ction at August 7, 2011 7:02 PM ET:

Fact of the matter is, the small ODA teams working in conjunction with warlords and the Northern Alliance was responsible for winning the conflict in its infancy. Pouring troops into the region was our initial mistake. Now we have to occupy to see results.

Posted by T2 at August 7, 2011 11:03 PM ET:

When will a listing of the brave Americans and Afghans lost be available so to honor each individual.

Posted by unimpressed at August 8, 2011 12:42 AM ET:

villiger,
Dude... why are you not writing for MSNBC and CNN? You got the spin down pat.

Posted by Neonmeat at August 8, 2011 6:17 AM ET:

@ Abu Layth
Yeah no one likes an occupying force but it would seem things aren't quite as black and white as they often appear to be.

For many the Taliban are an unwelcome and occupying force:

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/0801/How-Pakistani-minutemen-are-fighting-the-Taliban-false-Muslims

Posted by blert at August 8, 2011 2:19 PM ET:

Opsec leaves us outsiders blind, but the number of commandos involved implies a HVT.

This is also consistent with the drum roll of HVT captures in recent weeks.

The Taliban are structured along Al Capone/ mob lines.

Only, instead of beer, it's opium and hash.

Their terrain is as rough as West Virginia -- with the same effect on getting around.

The only way to gut their racket is to introduce crop pests specific to opium.

BTW, one should never forget that both the ANA and the opfor are riven with drug addicts.

Picking a fight with the locals is an own-goal.

Posted by Soccer at August 9, 2011 6:32 PM ET:

unimpressed,

Villiger is anything but a leftist as far as I can tell based on my conversations with him. I happen to agree 100 percent; Iraq took our eye off the ball that mattered, which was Afghanistan, and the threat that emanated and leaked over from across the border with Pakistan.

Iraq also drained us financially and help put us in this mess we're in now. If we hadn't gone into Iraq the next war we could have fight was one of drastic importance inside KP and FATA to take out Al Qaeda and the rest of the terrorists once and for all.

Of course, this isn't an ideal world so that never happened.

Posted by Soccer at August 9, 2011 7:38 PM ET:

And yes Fr4ction, that is true but those days are long gone. I have always been amazed at the ferociousness and skill we fought the Taliban/Al Qaeda with during those early days of the war. But for some reason the political leaders in Washington find it reasonable to pour hundreds of thousands of troops into Afghanistan to deal with the spill-over of militants from their safe sanctuaries in Pakistan.

We should have just gone and eliminated the safe havens after Tora Bora. But that never happened, even though it was reportedly put on the table.

Posted by Villiger at August 10, 2011 1:23 PM ET:

Soccer, thank you. Sot-on and very eloquently put especially the bit about it not being an ideal world.
---

And unimpressed, just to be clear, I'm not American, nor am i your Brit cousin from across the pond so, likely, i don't come from your conditioning, i.e. the prism through which you would like to box me in with.

In fact, i am not beholden to any nationality nor am i patriotic. Of course i have a passport--i'd recommend you one too. Travel around the globe a bit and you'll see that what i sense and wrote is what much of the world believes, including those peoples who are well-wishers of the US of A. Those that are rabid towards the US are much of what this Long War is about. One can't convert them but if one gets to the point where we can all live and let live then we can stop wasting the world's resources and enable all to have a decent living.

Until then we can continue to grope around in our Type Zero 'global' civilization and kid ourselves that we are very smart. technologically advanced 'modern-man'. So my friend (dude or dudette, if you prefer), i recommend you reject your petty little left and right bickering and raise your sights. This world is on fire, in case you haven't noticed.

Btw, talking about nbc, i happened to come across this article the other day on the very taboo subject of Pak's nukes, entitled

"US prepares for worst-case scenario with Pakistan nukes"

http://openchannel.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/03/7189919-us-prepares-for-worst-case-scenario-with-pakistan-nukes#comments

Read it and tell me again who you think i should be spinning for.

Posted by Villiger at August 10, 2011 2:12 PM ET:

unimpressed,

This time an excerpt from the Washington Post (as we all know part of Rupert Murdoch's empire, so not very left huh?):

"Afghanistan

The Iraq invasion diverted our attention from the Afghan war, now entering its 10th year. While "success" in Afghanistan might always have been elusive, we would probably have been able to assert more control over the Taliban, and suffered fewer casualties, if we had not been sidetracked. In 2003 -- the year we invaded Iraq -- the United States cut spending in Afghanistan to $14.7 billion (down from more than $20 billion in 2002), while we poured $53 billion into Iraq. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, we spent at least four times as much money in Iraq as in Afghanistan.

It is hard to believe that we would be embroiled in a bloody conflict in Afghanistan today if we had devoted the resources there that we instead deployed in Iraq. A troop surge in 2003 -- before the warlords and the Taliban reestablished control -- would have been much more effective than a surge in 2010."

Impressed?? I could've written it!

Read the whole, especially in the context of the impact on your economy (and, yes, so too on the world economy in case you're following the markets.)

The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090302200.html

Posted by villiger at August 10, 2011 2:19 PM ET:

Correction:
I take that point about ol' Rupert back; yes thats the WSJ.

The point stands.

Posted by xpara at August 12, 2011 9:18 AM ET:

Why were they in a Chinook? Old, low, slow. And a huge target. They should be ferried into hot LZs in Blackhawks. Multiple potential targets but limited losses if the enemy gets lucky with an RPG. I sincerely hope that Chinooks are not used to scrimp on money, something that has bedeviled Special Ops since early days on Smoke Bomb Hill. Is there a lack of air crew? A shortage of Blackhawks? Or just stupid tactics? I pray they change their MO for insertion. Chinooks should be used only for backup emergency extraction, a la the successful Bin Laden mission.