The US military now claims that more than 100 enemy fighters were killed during the Oct. 3 assault on two joint Afghan and US outposts in Nuristan province. The military also backed away from its previous statement that a “Nuristani tribal militia” conducted the attack and said the attack was a collaborative effort by multiple extremist groups.
Several days ago, more than 300 enemy fighters launched the attack on the two remote outposts in the district of Kamdish, just 10 miles from the Pakistani border, after organizing at a nearby mosque and a village.
The US military is now claiming that more than one-third of the assault force was killed while US and Afghan forces repelled the attack. Initially, the US had said “several” fighters were killed, but various press accounts put the number at between 20 to 50 fighters killed.
“A more detailed battlefield assessment following the Oct. 3 attack in Nuristan has determined that enemy forces suffered more than 100 dead during the well-coordinated defense — significantly higher losses than originally thought,” the US military said in a press release.
The attack, which resulted in eight US soldiers and upwards of seven Afghan police killed, and the capture of a district police chief and 13 policemen, was the largest loss of US troops in a single battle since last year’s battle in Wanat, also in Nuristan.
Today’s disclosure of enemy casualties marks a departure from a recent policy by the US military and the International Security Assistance Force, which had maintained that reporting on the number of enemy killed during combat was counterproductive and the command would no longer provide estimates to the media or in press releases.
Attack was not launched by a ‘Nuristani tribal militia’
The US military has also backtracked from its initial statement that the assault was carried out by a “Nuristani tribal militia” and that “the sources of the conflict in the area involve complex tribal, religious and economic dynamics.”
“Additionally, ISAF now believes that while the attack was conducted by local anti-Afghan forces, … local Taliban and elements of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin may have helped facilitate the attack,” the US military stated in a press release today.
US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on Oct. 4 that the attack was carried out by local Taliban fighters under the command of Nuristan shadow governor Dost Mohammed and that the strike force was aided by al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil. Elements of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin man units within the Shadow Army.
For more information on the battle in Kamdish, see: “US, Afghan troops beat back bold enemy assault in eastern Afghanistan.”
For more information on al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, see: “Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army.'”
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Although I am glad about it I can’t understand why the American casualties are so “low”, considering the sheer size of the attack forces …
Are the Taliban shooting that bad? Or is the body armor of an American trooper that strong?
Well dug in troops, with 155mm artillery/air power cap. Reports indicate that helicopters were on site within 30 minutes. Very bad for an attacking force. Preliminary enemy kia’s is dubious. When and if they mass for an attack, they will pay heavily for headlines.
I also read a report that over 100 enemies have been killed or wounded in the past 24 hours. Are these numbers separate from the 100+ reported here? Or do these numbers overlap?
Here’s the link:
Did they find the enemy dead? This report would have more credibility if more details were given. I read an earlier report that said only five dead enemy were found. Of course I know the Taliban carry off their dead just as we do but if over 30% of the attacking force was killed that would have been very hard to do since their are usually more wounded than killed.
There’s a weakness for the Taliban. The only way they can overun an outpost is by sheer numbers but everytime they mass in numbers they take a big hit. Now they know that 300 vs 100 is not enough.
The fact that they could mass 300 terrorists without us noticing is very bad though. What a nice village that is. Perhaps next time they will mass 600 and actually overrun the base and take prisoners.
How do 300 terrorists with weapons move around like that? Massive corruption and back stabbing police and citizenry are probably the reason.
You are either with us or against us. When we suffer losses like this, it’s time we stood up a little stronger against the enablers here.
I have seen stories citing the attacking force as 700 strong. Could be an explanation.
The US usually doesn’t post enemy kia’s. They don’t want to get into “body-count” game. However, aerial themal imaging/targeting pods are quite accurate in estimating enemy casualties. No bodies are necessary, although you would want to recover any/all weapons.
zotz – I agree. Now, first reports are always inaccurate, but there’s a big difference between ‘5 bodies recovered’ and ‘enemy withdrew in good order’ and taking 1/3 fatalities – not casualties – fatalities. So, assuming the remaining 2/3 were fit enough to carry away 95 bodies while under fire, how did they then also carry away all the weaponry (including that of the casualties) they used to such good effect? Further, what happened to the bodies? They must have been buried somewhere – any imagery/patrol reports of mass burials in the nearby vicinity? We used to use that as a clue when we couldn’t recover bodies – watch the local villages for funerals, and count the number of holes in the ground. Carrying on the tangent, that didn’t necessarily mean the villagers were sympathetic – they just wanted to get the bodies underground before they rotted – a mix of self interest and respect for humanity.
Mr T – do you think the goal is to overrun the base, or to win a propaganda victory? The base is going to close anyway – now it looks like it was driven away. If the insurgents can recruit suicide bombers, I’m sure it’s not a stretch to recruit a suicide assault force. And what’s the point in the coalition standing up stronger to the local village if you’re going to leave it to the whims of the local strongman? The villagers aren’t stupid – they’ll figure out a way to stay alive long after our attention has been distracted by some other battlefield. You’ll just look like an idiot in their eyes.
Anyway, all said, not enough hard info in the open sources to make any firm judgements.
I have to agree with zotz, the numbers just do not add up. If we had killed 30% of the attacking force then they should not have been capable of retrieving almost all of the bodies.
Something smells here and I am very worried that the credibility of the military may be on the line.
Good question F. My initial thought was propaganda victory. The base is closing and now they look like they caused it. However, overrunning a base would be a huge victory for them AND a propaganda coup.
We can’t bomb our own men so if they got inside the wire and took a couple of prisoners, they could easily get more back than they lost in casualties in a prisoner swap. We may swap 1,000 prisoners for one soldier or something insane like that.
As for the villagers, I know many are caught in the middle of this. The Taliban will cut their heads off if the even suspect they are helping the enemy. We can’t do that so our options are more limited but we do have options. How about distributing some radios? Come in outpost, hundreds of Taliban arriving. Just thinking.. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Regarding enemy casulty question, I am very much inclined to believe the new figures. If response from supporting arms was as quick as represented and if infrared air asset in the vicinity then this could have been a very tough retreat for the Taliban. Certainly body heat and active weapons in what should have been a cool environment would make great targets. The geography should have channeled the retreat increasing the opportunity to inflict damage.
What baffles me is the lack of media savy by Army. Considering our culture and equipment we ought to be inside the news cycle and ahead of the Taliban. Anytime you can damage approximately 50% of the attacking force, that is victory.
It is pretty obvious that it was a sudden massed attack that intended to overrun the base. The physical capture of the base itself and the area immediately around it are irrelevant to the Taliban. You folks have the wrong mindset. Tactical victories in Afghanistan are largely irrelevant to the Taliban at this point. So what if it is a weak base out in the middle of nowhere, that is slated to be closed. That’s not the point. This is all about selling the “inevitability”
How many bodies are there to recover would depend on the munitions used to kill them.
Shrapnel and projectile weapons: artillery/Hellfire/unguided rockets/30mm cannon/grenades will leave bodies somewhat instact (assuming no direct hits).
Bombs will leave a lot of body fragments especially when used in larger sizes against concentrations of groups.
It might be that there were 5 intact bodies left (others removed) that were initially found. And plenty dismembered perhaps in areas they didn’t want to go looking for them.
The US usually doesn’t post enemy kia’s. I have to agree with zotz, the numbers just do not add up. If we had killed 30% of the attacking force then they should not have been capable of retrieving almost all of the bodies.
If you think these casualties are low you obviously need to learn about the differences between an experienced and well trained first world army and the same for the third world.
Various elite extremist groups should not be able to cause more than several casualties even without air support, in most cases.
Of course without support one runs a higher average due to being partially or very rarely completely overrun.
Mortars can kill a few guys at a time if they get lucky or well aimed.
RE-GARD-LESS… The best the third and first world can offer is quite far apart, especially when the first world is in a defended position.
Neo – I’m certain you’re right about the propaganda and video aspect (though I’m still not convinced the aim was to seize terrain). Here’s a somewhat lengthy quote from Robert Fowler, a UN diplomat kidnapped in Niger last year:
FOWLER: As night falls they take three spare tires and pile them one on top of the other, haul out their nifty laptop, plug it into the engine, to the cigarette lighter in the engine compartment, and fire it up and we watch what we call TV night.
They would have video cameras slaved to sniper rifles as they sort of popped the heads off GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan, endless IEDs blowing up Hummies and trucks and conveys in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lots of suicide bombers crashing through gates blowing up, some buildings, some were other, and every time this would happen the audience would scream (unclear) and wasn’t that great.
MANSBRIDGE: THIS WAS THE SAME, EVERY TIME THERE WAS A TV NIGHT THEY’D PLAY THE SAME?
FOWLER: Oh no, sometimes they had new, Al-Qaeda central would send them a new hot DVD that one guy came actually the only time I saw real excitement, a guy running in from with a new DVD. Boy you know we have a bestseller tonight. And they would, it was clearly these were propaganda films, rather good production values. I mean they were well made.
And um it was to pump up the boys. I mean to remind them of what it was all about, and they were Mujahadeen and death in the calls is what it’s all about and we will prevail.
In some ways it doesn’t sound too different from the war-turned-rock-video clips every other western soldier loves to make, except that this is done with a very obvious propaganda purpose. The target audience isn’t the west (our own media do that job) – it’s the rest of the third world no-prospect angry-young-male population. And the fact that it spreads so far geographically gives an indication of just how widespread this movement really is.
I hate to ask this question because of its potential implications, but do we have a plan in case of defeat in the war?
I mean, say Obama gives the troops asked for but the Taliban still win (and it would be entirely still possible, especially with their gains in propaganda and our negative propaganda thanks to Karzari), what do we do? What if we run out of time in ending the war, a chronic problem in expeditionary conflicts (and make no mistake, this war is expeditionary in nature, and have to pull out due to utter resentment of continued ground operations?
I’m just curious what we do then, because Iraq showed we have to be prepared for any eventuality.
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/07/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.
It ain’t going to happen, the taliban will never overrun a US firebase.
The more they bring up, the more we will kill!
Very bad mangement by US army. How long will they take to secure north of Kabul. South needs more troop to secure, but existing troop is enough to secure north.
Kunar and Nuristan need to be secured at earliest.
F: (though I’m still not convinced the aim was to seize terrain)
If they were lucky enough to overrun the place in the first push, they would have only minutes to work with. Either get a camera in to get some quick propaganda footage or get soldiers and bodies out of the immediate area for later use. (Both)
They had to know it was a long shot, but in any case they can now claim a victory once the Americans leave the base. It wouldn’t be any good to just let the Americans leave the place.
Actually, if you look at the situation critically a high enemy casualty rate combined with a relatively low number of bodies recovered makes sense. Considering that IIRC the battle lasted some eighteen hours (fighting started Friday night and the area was not secure enough to attempt to fly out wounded until Saturday night) and assuming that four men would be needed to carry one body off of the immediate battlefield, as few as twenty bearers would have been necessary. Even in the mountains, you can go a ways in half an hour.
Doubling that estimate for bearers to carry away wounded Taliban and only forty men would be needed to “clean up” after a three hundred-strong assault force. Considering that the enemy likely needed ammunition resupply over the course of the battle anyways, that the Taliban were able to clear the battlefield of most of their dead is unsurprising – bearers were probably coming in with ammo and leaving with enemy dead and wounded.
Slight tangent – it appears the captured cops have been freed according to the BBC:
“Thirteen Afghan policemen captured during one of the deadliest attacks on international forces have been freed, officials in eastern Afghanistan say.
The deputy police chief in Nuristan told the BBC they were freed in an operation by Afghan and Nato forces in which dozens of insurgents were killed.
The officer, known only as Faruq, said seven civilians were also killed by an airstrike during the rescue operation…”
At the risk of getting stuck in the weeds (and worse, into an attritionist arguement), it’s worth pointing out that for all the claims of precision munitions, marksmanship training and so on, we’re still not far off from the Vietnam days where it took a million rounds to kill an VC. Example from TF Rock, cited here – //www.battlefieldtourist.com/content/battle-of-wanat-historical-analysis-rough-draft-release/:
9,434 combat patrols;
5,382 Indirect Fire Engagements;
36,225 Indirect Rounds fired;
3,789 Aerial Delivered Munitions;
108 TOW missiles fired; and
23 Javelin missiles fired.
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’ll bet that all those munitions added up to less than 500 dead, and maybe triple that in wounded. If you drop a 500lb bomb into a grapehut you’ll kill everyone inside. But very minor terrain features can provide a surprising amount of cover. It takes a heck of a lot of effort to kill people, especially when they’re moving and using cover.
As for the release of the police – very curious. It would be educational to learn what passed between them and their captors.
“Never” is a meaningless word on the battlefield. Even more meaningless for a tactictian.
If we don’t have a plan in place for every eventuality, eventually we may face an enemy worse than the Taliban and thats lack of direction out of pride.
All I’m saying is is that we need to have our wits about us with this and that includes unpleasant situations such as a defeat.
Given the perfect terrain for setting up mtn top firebases to control almost 1,000 miles of poorly sealed border with Pakistan I don’t like the idea of abandoning this type of post.
I have mapped out many firebases along the boarder, and with long-range arty, such as the Denel, they are all 2-5X mutually supporting. I don’t know what kind of mortar shells we are using, but both Denel and ISI make those with effective sub-munitions, so even in soft soil conditions they should be quite effective. I am also wondering where the AC-130 gunships have been of late? The are faster to arrive than choppers, carry 10X the munitions, and can loiter for days if necessary.
In short, i my view, retreating back to the cities in a country where most of the population lives in rural areas, and depending on the Pakis to seal a boarder they cannot, seems a poor strategy. If the most we can hope to do is clear-hold-build where 20% of the population lives, we are doomed to failure.
Why do so many people ignore the fog of war?
Battlefields are places of chaos, not imaginary parade grounds of glory, where soldiers march in neat formations and everything is in order.
The more time goes by, the more accurately a battle can be assessed.
I too am confused on how many actually died. I’ve heard conflicting reports from many different news sources.
Maybe we should start using napalm and FAE’s again. Bet that would break thier backs. Profound sorrow for our men who were left out in the wind to dangle. 2 choppers were driven off when they arrived, and the only CAS support they got was 2 F-15’s, using thier guns to keep heads down. This is heartbreaking, BUT its NOT the first time…