Taliban launches complex assault in Haqqani country

The Taliban launched a multi-pronged suicide attack against government and security installations in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, a stronghold of the deadly Haqqani Network. Eleven Taliban fighters and nine civilians were killed in the day-long assault.

The attack began mid-morning when a suicide bomber dressed in a burka attacked the provincial headquarters and was followed up by a suicide car bomber. No casualties were reported in the opening salvo.

A six-man suicide team then assaulted a police station in Khost City but was repelled by the policemen. The attackers entered a nearby municipal center and took 20 people hostage. Three of the suicide bombers apparently detonated their vests as Afghan and US forces cordoned then stormed the building, killed the remaining Taliban fighters, and rescued the hostages.

Other explosions were heard throughout the city, while the Taliban set ambushes for US and Afghan forces as they responded to the attacks from nearby bases. The fighting later died down in the evening as security forces took control.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a senior Taliban spokesman, claimed the attack was larger than reported, and said 30 suicide bombers participated in the assault.

Today’s assault in Khost is the latest in a series of complex attacks and other strikes aimed and police and government centers in Afghanistan since January 2008 [see list below]. Taliban bombers and assault teams have carried out sophisticated strikes in Kabul, Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Nimroz, Nuristan, and Khost.

Over the past two years, of the Taliban attacks have become more sophisticated and more effective. The Taliban receive training for such attacks at training facilities in Pakistan’s northwest as well as in Baluchistan province. Taliban fighters train with al Qaeda and other allied jihadi groups inside of Pakistan, and some Taliban fighters become members of al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, the elite paramilitary force operating in the Afghan/Pakistani border region.

Handiwork of the Haqqani Network

Today’s strike in Khost is the handiwork of the notorious Haqqani Network, a Taliban group run by mujahedeen leader Jalaluddin and his son Siraj. The network has close ties to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Pakistan’s security services. The network is active in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, and Kabul, and provides support to Taliban networks in Kunar, Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar.

The Haqqani Network is based across the border in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The group runs its headquarters at the Manba Ulom madrassa just outside of Miramshah, and also maintains a forward operating command center in Afghanistan in the village of Zambar in the northern Sabari district in Khost province.

Both Jalaluddin and Siraj have close ties with al Qaeda and bin Laden, as well as with the radical cleric Sheikh Issa al Masri. Sheikh Issa is the spiritual adviser for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Zawahiri’s organization that merged with al Qaeda, and he is also the leader of al Jihad fi Waziristan, an al Qaeda branch in North Waziristan. Issa has radicalized thousands of Taliban by indoctrinating them with the Wahabbi version of Islam.

The Haqqanis also have extensive links with the Taliban and with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency. The relationship with the ISI has allowed the Haqqani Network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area, and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. The Haqqanis have established multiple training camps and safe houses used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives as well as by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.

Siraj Haqqani has risen in prominence over the past two years. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan and offered a $50,000 reward for his capture during the fall of 2007. He is the senior Taliban military commander in eastern Afghanistan. In March 2009, the US Treasury designated Siraj a global terrorist and placed a $5 million bounty on his head.

Siraj is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, including the military-styled assault on the Serena Hotel and the attack on a parade in Kabul that targeted President Karzai. Most recently, a Haqqani Network suicide bomber killed 14 school children and 11 other Afghans in a suicide attack outside an outpost in Khost.

The US military has conducted multiple cross-border airstrikes against the Haqqani Network’s infrastructure in North Waziristan. Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan as well as the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was killed in a strike in January 2008 in one of more than a dozen strikes against Haqqani compounds in North Waziristan. The US also targeted the Haqqani-run Manba Ulom madrassa, which has served as a command center and meeting place for al Qaeda and Haqqani operatives.

List of major complex and suicide attacks in Afghanistan since January 2008

April 1, 2009: Four Taliban suicide bombers disguised as Afghan soldiers attempted to kill the Kandahar provincial council after entering the compound. Security forces foiled the attack but seven civilians and six policemen were killed during the fighting.

March 30, 2009: A suicide bomber wearing a police uniform penetrated security at a police compound in Kandahar’s Andar district and killed five policemen and four civilians after detonating his vest.

Feb. 11, 2009 The Taliban conducted a multi-pronged assault on two Afghan ministries and a prison headquarters in the capital of Kabul that resulted in 19 people killed and more than 50 wounded.

Feb. 2, 2009: A suicide bomber detonated his vest inside a training center for police reservists in the town of Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province. Twenty-one Afghan police were killed and seven more were wounded in the suicide attack.

Dec. 4, 2008: A three-man suicide team stormed the headquarters of Afghanistan’s intelligence service in Khost province. Six intelligence and police officials were killed and another seven were wounded.

Sept. 7, 2008: Two Taliban suicide bombers entered a police headquarters in Kandahar province and searched for a senior police general in charge of border security at the Spin Boldak crossing point. Six policemen were killed and 37 were wounded, including the general, in the bombings.

Sept. 6, 2008: A Taliban suicide bomber penetrated a secure government building in the southwestern province of Nimroz and detonated his vest. The attack killed six people, including Nimroz province’s intelligence chief and his 20-year-old son.

On April 27, 2008: A Taliban assault team attempted to assassinate President Karzai during a military parade outside Kabul. Two members of parliament were killed and eleven others were wounded during the barrage of automatic gunfire and mortar shells.

Jan. 14, 2008: A suicide assault team from the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network raided the heavily secured Serena Hotel. Terrorists wearing suicide vests breached the front gate with a suicide attack and then entered the hotel and began shooting civilians. A Norwegian journalist, an American aid worker, and at least five security guards were killed in the assault.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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18 Comments

  • Max says:

    I hate to sound so callous and uncaring, but I sincerely hope they all strap on a suicide belt and detonate; just do it out where no one gets hurt (their own self excepted!) It would be good riddance.

  • Minnor says:

    Afghans or Pashtuns won against British with the help of Russians in 1920. And won against Russians with the help of Americans in 1990. And they think they are invincible, any takers?

  • anand says:

    Today’s attack is a larger story than the press is letting on.
    Any perspectives on how the ANA and ANP responded to this?

  • KnightHawk says:

    So according to mr. Taliban spokesperson they sent in 30 suicide bombs but only managed to kill 9 civilians? Real effective there pal.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/13/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Lorenz Gude says:

    Unless the report is incomplete it sounds like a very ineffective attack. It also sounds like the police and the coalition forces were ready and capable. Great!

  • Midnght says:

    They aren’t really at war right now, it’s more like rest mode. Waiting for the next wave. Called Pakistan.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    NightHawk,
    I’ve just read that of the 30 suicide bombers sent to Khost, only eight were involved in the attack and killed yesterday and a ninth bomber carried out an attack today near Camp Salerno near Khost. So by those numbers, 21 suicide bombers remain in the area.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Excuse me, “KnightHawk”. My apologies.

  • Kevin P says:

    “Eleven Taliban fighters and nine civilians were killed in the day-long assault.”
    And this was a complex assault?
    For a rule of thumb 1 suicide bomber killing 11 people is average over all suicide bombings (truck to individual) from the early 1980s to the present day that caused at least 1 death (that from the West Point anti-terrorism journal that often referenced here … sorry no cite).
    Another point to note that the Mumbai attack was at about this average. And the average American gun-nut rampage seems to be rather similar (or sometimes larger) casualty count. So much for devastating tactics.
    I’ve noted recently that though the “gun and bomb suicide assault teams” get a lot of press they aren’t actually very effective in terms of body count. Especially in Afghanistan. Perhaps they’re trying to penetrate better defended sites but the total seems much less than say a car bomb in a market with similar amount of total explosives.

  • ScottinHouston says:

    I wonder if any statistics are being kept on the nationalities of sucide bombers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Are the same middle east, North African, and European supply lines that provided the suicide bombers in Iraq supplying the human bombs in this region? If so, what border countries do these guys cross on their way to martydom?

  • rational enquirer says:

    Let’s say on their way to oblivion.

  • Mr T says:

    All of them. There are a lot of countries and officials and citizen types around the world supporting Al Qaeda, the Tailban, and Muslim extremism . That includes direct participation and funding, as well as indirect support or tacit approval support.
    How else could those organizations exist at their level? No armor, no air support, no heavy weapons, etc, yet they recruit, train, arm, and deploy enough assets to keep the largest military forces in the world (NATO et al) at war for years on end.
    That drains their enemy militarily, economically, emotionally, financially, and morally. They have a lot of help including from our “friends” around the world.

  • SomeGuy says:

    Well I think the other important part you’ve missed Mr. T is the fact that they have (pardon the expression) “F-You Money” from the drug trade…and a lot of it. It’s the same with FARC, and sometimes as simple as strolling to the border and buying the equipment off the Iranian/Chinese/Uzbek local unit commander.
    But you are right, and some of these “losses” are undoubtably deals brokered between Pak/Taliban commanders. “For a price I’ll let you take my unit hostage and steal our weapons so I can write them off as combat losses and keep face”.

  • anand says:

    The Takfiris have had lots of money from the Gulf for over a generation. Unless this is somehow cut off, the Takfiri cannot be fully defeated . . . hurt, yes . . . defeated no.

  • KnightHawk says:

    KaneKaizer,
    9 for 16 then (1 for 7 on the car bomb in Khost) doesn’t exactly change my view that this particular effort was far from highly effective, not to others will may not be.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    KnightHawk,
    I don’t dispute that the attack failed, I merely wanted to clarify that it wasn’t over yet.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    The “attack” referring to the one on Tuesday.

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