Over at the Institute for the Study of War, Jeffrey Dressler published a good overview of the situation in Helmand province. The report is well worth the read. This section highlights the foreign fighter [al Qaeda] involvement in Helmand. For those thinking that al Qaeda wouldn’t be welcome in Afghanistan if the Taliban took control of larger regions in the country, this should give pause:
The third element of the QST [Quetta Shura Taliban] enemy system in Helmand is foreign fighters. These fighters constitute a portion of the enemy’s total force numbers. The majority of foreign fighters are recruited from Pakistan’s madrassas, refugee camps in Baluchistan, and reportedly as far east as Miramshah [in North Waziristan] in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). They generally cross the porous Helmand-Baluchistan border, making their way up the Helmand River. A Marine operation in Garmser during the late spring of 2008 revealed the magnitude of the foreign fighter facilitation network. During the operation, 150 fighters, mostly foreign, were killed in just one week’s time. Reports suggested there were more than 500 fighters in the district, most of them foreign. Coalition forces in Helmand have even reported “syndicates” of militants moving back and forth across the Helmand-Pakistan border, including Pakistanis, and elements of Al Qaeda.
Larger units range in size from groups of twelve to thirty-plus fighters. They typically carry out more sophisticated attacks, such as coordinated, multi-directional ambushes or raids on ANP fortifications in Taliban-controlled territory. Foreign fighters are better trained to conduct these sophisticated attacks. Suicide bombers in Helmand are also more likely to be foreign. Their deaths will not be mourned by local families and relatives, potentially eroding public support for Taliban operations and will not start the vicious cycle of retributive justice that is part of the pashtunwali code. Suicide attackers are often trained in Baluchistan and sent into Helmand, instructed to report to a specific commander in Helmand to receive operational instructions.
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