Joint forces assault al Qaeda base in Afghan East

US and Afghan forces killed 18 extremists during a raid on an al Qaeda base in the mountains in eastern Afghanistan.

The raid, launched on Oct. 11, targeted an al Qaeda commander who is known to use the mountainside base near the village of Tantil to conduct attacks in the Pech Valley. The al Qaeda leader, who was not named, and his cadre are also known to facilitate the movement of foreign fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

The US military said “more than a dozen militants” were killed during the fighting and one more was detained. A later report by the Associated Press put the number killed at 18.

The US and Afghan military have conducted multiple raids against al Qaeda and Taliban camps deep in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Since late May, the joint forces have taken out four large base camps operated by the Haqqani Network in Paktika, Paktia, and Khost provinces. The Haqqani Network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj, have close ties to al Qaeda, Mullah Omar, the Pakistani Taliban, and Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.

On May 28, US and Afghan forces assaulted a heavily defended fort in the mountains in the Wor Mamay district in the eastern province of Paktika, near the Pakistani border. Twenty-nine Haqqani Network fighters, including six failed suicide bombers, were killed during the raid. Mullah Sangeen Zadran, the senior Haqqani Network commander who was the target of the raid, escaped.

The next raid took place on July 17, when US and Afghan forces took out an “enemy encampment” situated in the remote reaches of Paktia province. The US military said a large number of Haqqani Network fighters were killed in the assault.

The US carried out the Paktia raid the same day Sangeen threatened to kill a US soldier unless Coalition forces ended operations in two districts in Paktika and Ghazni provinces in eastern Afghanistan. The soldier was captured June 30 after walking away from his combat outpost in Paktika province, and has not been heard from since mid-July, when the Haqqanis released a staged videotape “interview.”

US and Afghan forces struck at two Haqqani encampments in late August.

The first attack took place on Aug. 28 when a joint US and Afghan force assaulted a fortified Haqqani Network base located in the mountains of the Urgun District in Paktika province along the Pakistani border. The US military said “a large number of hostile militants” were killed during a daylong assault on what the US military described as a “logistics base and safe haven for foreign fighters.” The base had sophisticated fortifications, and a massive amount of light and heavy weapons were found.

The second attack took place late at night on Aug. 29 in the Sapera district in Khost province. The joint US and Afghan force killed 35 Haqqani Network fighters during the assault on a hideout in the district. Security forces also found weapons and food caches at the hideout.

The proliferation of large enemy hideouts and training camps used by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network has concerned US military officers and intelligence officials.

With the planned withdrawal of US forces from remote regions such as the recently closed bases in Kamdish in Nuristan province, military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal are concerned that the number of enemy encampments will increase and lead to an entrenched insurgency capable of exerting more pressure on regions already in danger.

“We just can’t cede more ground in the East,” a US military officer said. “There are already enemy safe havens, no-go zones, throughout the region. Giving ground in Kunar and Nuristan will give them more space to regroup, and better access to their bases in Pakistan.”

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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  • Alex says:

    Good to see some offensive action. Yes, protecting the civilian population centers is the number one priority, but we need to clean house in the tribal areas. “No-go zones” are unacceptable.

  • AA7 says:

    I have to comment on this one. Not sure who you’re talking to, but he needs to look at a map.
    The Kamdesh is 40+ kilometers from the nearest border crossing site. Units have been carefully arrayed along the Konar River to prevent infiltration and have been extremely effective. Leaders on the ground are destroying enemy sanctuaries wherever they’re found – just as you report.
    Pulling COPs out of the Kamdesh frees up combat power to do more of that while eliminating the enemy’s ability to attack resupply efforts. It also places more troops in population centers where they can help more Afghans.
    The enemy’s strategy is to draw us into remote valleys and dissipate our strength. His propaganda efforts are designed to hold us there.
    We don’t have to be based in the Kamdesh to strike the enemy there.

  • Civy says:

    Below is a list of the largest cities in Afghanistan and their populations. Ignoring those under 100,000, they amount to 15% of the 25 million people in Afghanistan.
    1 Kābol 2,536,300
    2 Herāt 349,000
    3 Qandahār 324,800
    4 Mazār-e Sharīf 300,600
    5 Jalālābād 168,600
    6 Kondūz 117,500
    7 Pol-e Khomrī 87,400
    8 Meymaneh 67,800
    9 Sheberghān 66,200
    10 Tāloqān 59,300
    11 Baghlān 56,200
    This is in sharp contrast to Iraq’s 25 million people, of which ~ 50% live in the 6 largest cities.
    Clear-Hold-Build is not an end in itself. It’s underlying goal is to become seen as the protector of the civilian population, vs it’s tormentor. How will the US come to be seen as the protector of the Afghan people if it is going to withdraw to the cities, abandon forward points of contact with the enemy, and hunker down in a defensive mode?
    I don’t care what the enemy’s strategy is. I want a correct one. It appears to me that we either need to move more people into fewer places, or we need to be in a lot more places. If that requires more troops, then we must be willing to supply them.
    As for the cities, since the living is easier in cities, they are better defenses, and they don’t require a lot of mobility, especially air-mobility, it is not US troops that should be preferred to defend them, but Afghan troops.
    I welcome thoughtful debate on this timely issue.

  • AA7 says:

    You may discount it, but understanding the enemy’s strategy is vitally important – always has been.
    Because this discussion started over events in Nuristan, consider these facts: RC-East has 154 official and 4 unofficial districts. Of those, Kamdesh is one of the least populated. In fact, all of Nuristan has less than 1% of the total population in RC-East’s operational area. A lot of things make the province important, but the size of its population certainly isn’t one of them.
    There are many districts in Afghanistan with no ISAF presence – in places with a dramatically higher population density. This would be easy if you could put a battalion in every district, but that’s just not feasible. As in any conflict, success in Afghanistan requires hard choices about priorities and allocation of resources.
    I’ve never heard of anyone who advocates “hunkering down in a defensive mode”


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