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.
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