Dost Mohammed, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nuristan province, is interviewed on Al Jazeera.
One month after US forces abandoned outposts in the Kamdish district in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nuristan, the Taliban are operating in the open, without fear of retaliation.
The Taliban and their commander Dost Mohammed recently flaunted their control of the district to Al Jazeera. Dost, who some had claimed was killed during US and Afghan raids in Nuristan, granted an interview with the news organization from Kamdish. Coalition forces attacked the Taliban in mid-October after the battle of Combat Outpost Keating and the subsequent US withdrawal. Mullah Abdul Rahman Mostaghni, a district-level Taliban commander, was thought to have been killed in the raid.
The Taliban have created “administrative units and the officials have been appointed,” an unnamed commander told Al Jazeera.
“We also established the judiciary department and the commission for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice section,” the commander told the news agency. “We are working on providing people’s basic needs.”
The promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice section will enforce the Taliban’s strict, repressive brand of sharia, or Islamic law.
The Taliban also hold “scores” of Afghan police and soldiers who have been captured since the fall of Kamdish, and claim to have seized large quantities of US munitions left at Keating [see video below].
Local Afghans acknowledge the Taliban’s control and say they do not believe the government will return.
“The area is currently under the control of Taliban, who walk freely in the Kamdish District,” a local resident told Al Jazeera. “I do not think that the government plans to regain control over it. The local authorities, especially the security ones, are very weak and cannot do anything.”
Last month, the US military withdrew from Camp Keating, Camp Fritsche, and several small, remote outposts in Kamdish just four days after a major battle that pitted more than 350 Taliban fighters backed by al Qaeda and members of the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin against platoon-sized forces of US soldiers and Afghan police. More than 100 Taliban fighters, eight US soldiers, and seven Afghan police were killed during the fighting.
The Taliban entered the perimeter of Camp Keating’s defenses, and damaged three Apache helicopter gunships, according to ABC News. Several Apache pilots were said to have been shocked by the scale of the Taliban assault. Most of Keating was destroyed during the battle.
The US military shrugged off Taliban claims of victory and said the closure of the outposts was part of a planned withdrawal.
“In line with the counterinsurgency guidance of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, ISAF commander, ISAF leaders decided last month to reposition forces to population centers within the region,” the US military said in a statement released in October.
“Despite Taliban claims, the movement of troops and equipment from the outposts are a part of a previously scheduled transfer,” the military continued. “The remote outposts were established as part of a previous security strategy to stop or prevent the flow of militants into the region.”
The Taliban mocked the US after the withdrawal from Kamdish.
“This means they are not coming back,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in October. “This is another victory for Taliban. We have control of another district in eastern Afghanistan.”
Clearly, the abandonment of Keating and other outposts has ceded territory to the Taliban.
“Make no mistake, this is a setback,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “Somehow, some day, we are going to have to fix this. Until then, the Taliban has an uncontested safe haven in Nuristan.”
Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders operating in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand, and in the Swat Valley, have described developments in Nuristan as positive. The US withdrawal has allowed Taliban commander Qari Ziaur Rahman to reorient forces across the border in Pakistan and open new fronts while the Pakistani Army is focused on South Waziristan.
Al Jazeera video of the Taliban at COP Keating
The Taliban provide footage from what was formerly known as Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdish district in Nuristan province. The Taliban now are in full control of the district and claim to have recovered US munitions at the site.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.