Taliban commander involved in Nuristan attack thought killed

A Taliban commander involved in last week’s deadly assault on a joint US and Afghan Army outpost is thought to have been killed during an airstrike.

Mullah Abdul Rahman Mostaghni and five of his fighters were killed on Oct. 9, according to the governor of Nuristan province and a senior Afghan Army general. The airstrike was carried out just two miles north of the town of Kamdish.

Mostaghni was identified by the governor of Nuristan as the Taliban military commander in Kamdish and the neighboring Bargi Matal district, according to Pajhwok Afghan News. Mostaghni was reviled by local Nuristanis for preying on travelers and convoys transiting the Kunar-Nuristan highway.

General Mohammad Afzal, the commander of the Afghan Army’s 201st Corps, confirmed Mostaghni was killed in the strike and said several other of his aides were also killed. The military would neither confirm nor deny the reports of Mostaghni’s death.

The Taliban have denied reports of Mostaghni’s death and described the statements as “propaganda.”

Mostaghni would have played a crucial role in the Oct. 3 attack on Camp Keating, the US combat outpost that was nearly overrun in a daylong Taliban assault carried out by more than 350 fighters from local Taliban forces, the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and al Qaeda’s Shadow Army.

The Taliban and their allied forces launched the attack from the town of Kamdish and a nearby mosque, both which are a half mile up the mountain from Camp Keating.

Eight US soldiers and seven Afghan troops were killed as the Taliban force penetrated the outer perimeter of Camp Keating and took control of several vital areas of the combat outpost. The Afghan Army side of the base and the Afghan police checkpoint were completely overrun, while the US soldiers had to abandon vital parts of the base, including the Tactical Operations Center and the Ammunition Supply Point, according to a US Army officer’s account of the battle published at Tom Ricks’ blog, The Best Defense.

The camp was saved when US helicopters arrived on scene 45 minutes after the battle began and strafed Taliban positions. US Apache helicopter pilots said they never saw such large numbers of Taliban fighters gather in a single battle. Fixed-winged US strike aircraft arrived shortly afterward and bombed Taliban formations, but the battle still lasted for nearly a day.

The US Army officer also said that it was thought that Taliban leader Dost Mohammed was killed in an Apache strike on the nearby mosque. The report has not been confirmed. The Taliban were firing at US and Afghan forces from the mosque.

The US military abandoned Camp Keating and nearby Camp Fritsche just four days after the battle. The move was pre-planned, the US military said, as it was focusing on securing population centers and removing far-flung outposts.

A spokesman for the Taliban said the US destroyed the two bases, and the district is now under the control of the extremists.

“This means they are not coming back,” Zabiullah Mujahid said, according to the Times Online. “This is another victory for Taliban. We have control of another district in eastern Afghanistan.”

The US withdrawal from bases in Nuristan will give the Taliban control of the vital corridor that stretches from Chitral in Pakistan to Kunar province and into Nuristan and Nangarhar provinces. This is a major logistics route for the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami, al Qaeda, and other groups that rely on support from across the border 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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