US, Afghan troops beat back bold enemy assault in eastern Afghanistan

dost-mohammed.JPG

Dost Mohammed, the Taliban shadow governor of Nuristan province, from a video on the leader’s website.

US and Afghan forces beat back a brazen assault on two joint outposts in the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan. The attack was led by Taliban commander Dost Mohammed and was aided by al Qaeda’s Shadow Army. Eight US troops, seven Afghan troops, and an unspecified number of enemy fighters were killed during the fighting, which ended after US air and artillery pounded the fighters in a counterattack.

The US military said the 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. More than 300 fighters were involved in the assault, according to Quqnoos, an Afghan newspaper.

The fighting was said to be intense and lasted for several hours. It ended after US attack helicopters, strike fighters, and artillery pounded the insurgent assault teams. Eight US and seven Afghan security personnel have been reported killed, and the district police chief and 13 policemen were captured. The US military did not provide an estimate of enemy killed, but said US and Afghan forces “inflicted heavy enemy casualties” during the counterattack.

A ‘complex attack’

The US military said the attack was “complex,” meaning it was well organized and executed. The fighters used assault rifles, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and heavy weapons such as rockets and mortars. The attack was coordinated and the fighters were able to withdraw from the battlefield in an organized fashion while under heavy fire. According to one report, the bodies of only five enemy fighters were found in the aftermath of the attack.

“This was a complex attack in a difficult area,” said Colonel Randy George, the commander of Task Force Mountain Warrior.

The US military described the attackers as “Nuristani tribal militia” and said that “the sources of the conflict in the area involve complex tribal, religious and economic dynamics.” Afghan officials described the attackers as Taliban, Uzbek, and Arab fighters who crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban was behind the attack; he also said the fate of the captured policemen has yet to be determined.

The attack took place as the US military has stated it was prepared to withdraw from the Nuristan region.

“Coalition forces’ previously announced plans to depart the area as part of a broader realignment to protect larger population centers remain unchanged,” the US military said in the press release on the attack.

Several US analysts and think tanks have advocated withdrawing from rural regions in eastern Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda’s Shadow Army played a role in the attack

While the US military has portrayed today’s Nuristan assault as being conducted by local “Nuristani tribal militia,” US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army participated in the attack.

The attack was launched by Taliban leader Dost Mohammed, a senior US military intelligence official who specializes in the situation along the Afghan-Pakistani border told The Long War Journal. The official said that elements from the Shadow Army “stiffened” Dost’s forces, which are considered able and effective fighters in their own right.

Dost is the Taliban’s shadow governor of Nuristan province, who has close links to al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban just across the border. “He’s an operator, a big, big commander for Nuristan, and has lots of resources,” a US expert who advises the US government on the Taliban told The Long War Journal.

Dost has occasionally run afoul of the decisions made by the Taliban’s executive council, or the Shura Majlis, over leadership decisions in the region.

“In 2007, Dost Mohammed was against the Quetta Shura appointment of Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a Zadran Pashtun Taliban leader with strong links to Omar, as the Taliban’s Eastern Zone Commander,” the US expert, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “Dost has always enjoyed semi-autonomy control over his area of operations and his own resources in Nuristan.”

Dost’s forces and the Shadow Army conducted a somewhat similar attack in July 2008 in the village of Wanat in Nuristan. A force estimated at between 200 to 400 fighters assaulted a small outpost as it was being built. The daylong firefight pitted the 48 US and 24 Afghan troops against the large Taliban and al Qaeda force. Nine US soldiers and between 20 to 50 enemy fighters were killed during the fierce battle, in which the assault force briefly entered the outer perimeter of the compound before being repelled.

Sources:

CBC: 8 U.S. soldiers, 7 Afghans killed in attack

DVIDS: Afghan National Security Forces, International Security Assistance Force Repel Insurgent Attack in Eastern Afghanistan

Quqnoos: Intense Afghan Battle Leaves Heavy US Deaths

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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24 Comments

  • lee says:

    Any news if we (US) recovered the bodies of our soldiers? I would hate any videos to surface.

  • Tyler says:

    If I had to guess its meant as a direct challenge to McChrystal’s population-centric strategy. Since pacifying Nuristan is going to be a very low priority in the near-term and troops are being moved out of there, this is meant to provoke a reversal.
    Notice the emphasis put on taking out the police force, thus heightening the pressure to commit troops to Nuristan (clearly a preferred battlefield of the jihadis) that could otherwise be conducting COIN operations in and around Kandahar.

  • seruriermarshal says:

    terrorists can deploy in villages if coalition leave there , then terrorists can attack city form those villages

  • pedestrian says:

    If we abandon outposts of Nuristan, we are going to risk our supply routes through Khyber Pass. We are going to lose faith of the Nuristani ethnics too. This is logistics crisis. There may be outposts that may be abandon for McCrystal’s strategy, but retreating from Nuristan is not an option. We need to hold Nuristan to secure supplies from Pakistan. We also need to secure supplies from Tajikstan. Gen. McCrystal should not abandon outposts of Nuristan.

  • James says:

    I may be splitting hairs here, but is “bold” required in the headline of this article? When I saw the headline in the New York Times about the “bold attack in Afghanistan”, I shook my head and thought, “I should go over to the long war journal and see if they have anything on this attack because whoever wrote this article is clearly not up on their military matters”. Needless to say I was dismayed to see that y’all had decided to go down the same path. I may be incorrect here, but do not all military actions carry a a level of boldness with them? Clausewitz described combat as the realm of danger, exertion, uncertainty and chance. All of those require boldness to face. Describing an armed group of men (especially one with superior numbers) launching a coordinated attack on another armed group of men as “bold” seems superfluous at best.

  • Gerry says:

    James, it would appear we have suffered a setback with the “bold” and and decisive battle in Nuristan. Probably Camp Keanan.
    To play it otherwise is to deny what happened. 15 US and Afghan fighters killed, numerous wounded, over 20 (perhaps much over 20) police captured. And only 5 reported enemy found on the battlefield?
    That’s a battle we lost.
    A little retribution on the participants may be in order (in my book). Look for it in on page nine two months from now.

  • ayamo says:

    I suspected Lashkar il-Zail’s involvement the moment I’ve heard about this attack.
    But considering the sheer size of the Taliban/al Qaeda forces one must be happy that the American casualties weren’t higher!!

  • Neo says:

    Perhaps the Taliban should augment their “bold”

  • Daniel says:

    Bill,
    Did this take place in the Waygal River Valley?
    Tyler,
    Please keep in mind that the Afghan National Police wwere likely complicite in the Battle of Wanat which was carried out by the same Taliban commander. While the district police chief was reported to be captured with 13 of his men, my guess is he didn’t want to stick around to be questioned and fired (or worse) like his Wanat counterpart.

  • pedestrian says:

    >Since pacifying Nuristan is going to be a very low priority in the near-term and troops are being moved out of there,
    >this is meant to provoke a reversal.
    Pacifying Nuristan is NOT a low priority ! Are you going to have supplies through Khyber pass passing near Nuristan unsecured and looted?! This is a hostile area that needs to be secured for the supplies to reach Kabul! Leaving Nuristan is a great disaster PERIOD.

  • tyrone says:

    I wonder if this wasn’t planned as a two fold propaganda coup. First, use propaganda if they overrun the base, but second, knowing the plan is to close the base down, stand up and crow that the Americans are sissy’s, a few losses and they run off. Finally, expect laxer security as the soldiers are packing things up, making it more likely to be a success.
    ABC news reported an est. 50 enemy killed in one report I saw.

  • Major Amped says:

    I just don’t get it.
    We’re fighting a WAR okay!!! Soldiers are killed in WAR. Does everyone understand that?
    The problem in this war that America is fighting is not an issue of resources or troops. It’s about COMMITMENT.
    How can you moan over so few soldiers killed. I agree it’s terrible that they died, but it’s part of the war! Those soldiers gave their lives and here we are wetting our pants over their deaths. We should be emboldened to obliterate every last extremist attacking outposts and laying IEDs.
    The war will swing in the favor of the US and NATO once, and only once the Afghan people are convinced that the US & NATO is going to stick at it until the Taliban are vanguished.
    And let me remind everybody of something very important and often overlooked. The jihadists, due to certain predictions made by Prophet Muhammad about the land of Khurusan (which largely includes Afghanistan) talk about a Muslim army in the end of days that will sweep away the infidels and march to the aid of the “Mahdi” (basically the guy who is going to be inspired by God to resurrect the caliphate at a time when the caliphate is dead).
    Make no mistake. The Taliban and jihadists are absolutely committed to this fight. If we fail in Afghanistan then part of this “prophecy” will have already occurred in their eyes. And that will unlock even more extremism.
    I know this sounds ridiculous but I just wish our government would get it’s head straight and focused compeltely. We CANNOT AFFORD TO FAIL IN AFGHANISTAN.

  • Jason says:

    If Afghanistan is so backwards, how do they keep getting these heavy weapons? Where is the financing coming from? Saudi Arabia?

  • Jason says:

    Can’t we trace where these heavy weapons are coming from? Or is there some reason it is not discussed?

  • Cass says:

    FOB Keating apparently was destroyed.
    “Over a hundred T’ban / tribals stormed FOB Keating and a little outpost nearby. The US and Afghans had to be extracted by Air Force SF. They couldn’t get to us for 16-24 hours so they were in just awful shape. Keating is completely demolished. Really terrible.”
    //johnjudyc.blogspot.com/2009/10/fob-keating.html

  • Carlos says:

    Jason,
    I guess most of it comes from drugs. Some of it through external sympatisers, but most of it from drugs. I’m Colombian, and the Farc terrorist organization has managed to sustain a continuous flow of cash, supplies and weapons through several regions using cocaine’s distribution routes. Extortion is also used, but to a lesser extent. I can’t see why the Taliban wouldn’t use a similar method.

  • Cajun says:

    An interesting question is whether this attack was a “Tet” style victory for the Taliban. A victory in which they were decimated on the battlefield but which they “win” the pr war. If they were engaged for several hours then our intel should have fixed the force and hammered the withdrawal. But maybe this was handled by the same fire control officer that denied fire support to the marines a couple of weeks ago. Supporting arms action with regards to this outpost would be an interesting angle Bill.

  • TheBigRedOne says:

    The heavy weapons question is right on the money. Who are the sources of these types of weapons? Pakistan? Iran? Russia? China?
    As for the ‘population-centric’ approach, isn’t that similar to what the Soviet strategy was? Control the cities, but leave the country-side? Anyone recall how that turned out?
    Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

  • Neo says:

    Pedestrian,
    You may be confusing Nuristan with Nangarhar province. The Khyber Pass is in Nangarhar Province to the south of Nuristan. Nuristan is up in the middle of nowhere past Konar province and probably isn’t worth extra resources that are needed elsewhere.
    It’s not that the area lacks importance. For instance, it served as one of the early area’s of stubborn resistance to the Soviets. There are other areas that are more important right now.

  • pedestrian says:

    >Can’t we trace where these heavy weapons are coming from?
    >Or is there some reason it is not discussed?
    Can you handle the truth?
    1)Iran
    I believe the Aimak ethnics are suspicious. The Qods force are rumored for some sort of support.
    2)Pakistan ISI and the military
    There are factions in ISI and the military that supports Taliban. It would not be a surprise if some of the weapons came from them.
    3)weapon smiths of Pakistan in Tribal belt
    If you know about the Tribal belt and its history, you will get to know that the tribes there have skills to replicate and build weapons.
    4)China?
    Uh oh, were you excited? There are some Chinese made AK assault rifle repoted in the market. There were rocket rounds made in China that were found in Iraq as well.

  • IntelTrooper says:

    Khyber is not in danger of attacks from Nuristan.

  • Zeissa says:

    What you don’t get is that these casualties are atypically high. Probably a result of remoteness. Regardless these incidences will continue to increase until the RoE are reduced back to pseudo-sane levels.

  • Mark Buehner says:

    “And only 5 reported enemy found on the battlefield?”
    The Taliban, like any good insurgent group, goes to great lengths to remove their dead from the battlefield. Precisely for this reason- if you can’t count the number of enemy dead you can’t know who the engagement favored. Since we usually announce our casualties, the Taliban knows and we don’t. This is a propaganda war as much as anything.
    At the end of the day the number of fighters we kill is fairly immaterial anyway. The fact that they can mass those kinds of numbers without our people getting wind of it is a bad sign. I’d trade being tipped off on the attack by the local villagers for killing half the enemy forces any time.

  • K.J. says:

    While I respect the debate that is clearly raging about whether to insert more shooters on the ground. . I don’t believe we should have the debate firstly, if the military commanders want more forces they should have already been there this is crazy. That being said if the Washington Suit brigade wants to have the debate why can’t they hold it in private. It makes us look like idiots to have this debate in public. I mean we might as well invite UBL To the “tank” at White House. And somebody needs to explain to the white house what “operational security”. Because they stink at it And I still have friends headed over to the sandbox. . By The way the Roes are a joke .

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