Afghan commandos retake eastern district from the Taliban


Map of Afghanistan’s provinces. Click map to view larger image.

Afghan commandos, backed by Coalition advisers and air support, have retaken a district in eastern Afghanistan that had been captured by the Taliban last weekend.

More than 200 Afghan commandos “assisted by a small contingent of coalition partners” retook the district of Barg-e-Matal in Nuristan province yesterday, the International Security Assistance Force said in a press release. The district was recaptured just two days after Afghan police abandoned Barg-e-Matal as part of a “tactical retreat” to avoid civilian casualties.

The operation to retake the district began early on May 31, when Coalition air support engaged the Taliban with “precision-guided airstrikes on known insurgent locations near Barg-e-Matal,” ISAF stated in a press release.

“The airstrikes were requested by local officials and ANSF [Afghan National Security Force] commanders,” ISAF said. “Extreme care was given to validating the targets, which were under surveillance for an extended period of time. The operation was launched in response to significant insurgent activity in the area during the previous week. The precision strikes were designed to degrade enemy positions, command and control, and staging/caches sites in the area.”

The airstrikes were followed by an air assault by Afghan commandos, who linked up with more than 400 local police in the region, The Associated Press reported. No Taliban casualties were reported in the airstrikes or the subsequent commando operation to retake the district.

“This successful operation by Afghan forces will return governance to Barg-e-Matal,” said Zemarai Bashary, the Ministry of Interior spokesman. “This operation shows the improved planning and operational capabilities of our joint forces in response to serious incidents even in the most remote locations of Afghanistan.”

The crisis in Nuristan began on May 25, when a large Taliban force estimated at between 300 to 500 fighters attacked the district center. Afghan officials said the Taliban were supported by Pakistani, Chechens, and other Central Asian fighters. Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Qari Fazlullah, who is known to shelter and operate in Nuristan, is said to have led the attack. Fazlullah was later reported killed, but the Taliban denied the report and said he was not involved in any fighting in Nuristan.

The Barg-e-Matal district is a known Taliban transit area to and from the northern Pakistani district of Chitral. Last summer, the Taliban took control of Barg-e-Matal for several months after a similar attack. US and Afghan forces were deployed to the region to help local Nuristanis eject the Taliban, but the forces later withdrew.

Barg-e-Matal borders the district of Kamdish, which has been under Taliban control since US forces withdrew from combat outposts last fall after an attack by a large Taliban and al Qaeda force. The withdrawal of US forces from the outposts in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province has provided the Taliban with major propaganda victories. The Taliban released propaganda tapes showing large-scale assaults on the US outposts followed by scenes of the Taliban occupying the abandoned bases. Weapons and ammunition that had been hastily abandoned by US and Afghan forces were displayed by the Taliban in the tapes.

Since last fall, ISAF began withdrawing forces from remote districts in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province as part of its new counterinsurgency plan that emphasizes securing major population centers over rural areas. According to ISAF commanders, the remote provinces of Nuristan and Kunar will be dealt with after more strategic regions in the south, east, and north have been addressed.

The outposts in Nuristan and Kunar were initially created in 2006 as part of a plan to establish a string of bases to interdict Taliban fighters and supplies moving across the border from Pakistan. But the plan was not completed, because US forces were diverted to the south in Kandahar after the Taliban began launching increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Previous LWJ reports on the fighting in Barg-e-Matal:

May 29, 2010: “Taliban take control of district in Nuristan”

May 28, 2010: “Nuristani Taliban commander denies Fazlullah killed”

May 27, 2010: “Mullah Fazlullah reported killed in Afghanistan”

May 26, 2010: “Pakistani Taliban assault district center in Nuristan”

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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  • Zeissa says:

    (That was fast.)
    I totally called it!

  • m3fd2002 says:

    Not unusual. The afghani’s are famous for posturing. If a few hills are taken overlooking a target, the low ground forces typically leave. The level of casualties are low, compared to western battles. The only time there are large casualties is when they surrender and are subsequently slaughtered by the victorious force. This is a very low intensity conflict.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    If nothing else it appears that the elite ANA Commandos and SF types are ready for the fight. They’ve done some very good work lately.

  • davidp says:

    “No Taliban casualties were reported in the airstrikes or the subsequent commando operation to retake the district.” Is sounds like they waited for the Taliban to leave, then walked back in. The Taliban don’t need to hold ground to win, so this is a Taliban victory.

  • Zeissa says:

    No. Taking it in the first place was a victory. Taking it back is an Allied victory regardless of a prior Allied defeat.
    As for the report of no reports of casualties occuring from airstrikes I find that inconsistent with the thourough planning before the attack. At any rate it could mean none to low casualties, confusion, late reports, high casualties… etc., though the emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties could also be a factor, as in scaring them away.

  • Zeissa says:

    Strategy Page is saying they left after some intimidation/coercion etc.

  • Thumpya says:

    Hard 2 believe no one was killed in airstrikes. Maybe just having a few fast movers flying was enough to convince them to leave. The Afghan SF must be pretty good, and im sure having US Spec ops along for the fight didn’t hurt at all. Good job.

  • Zeissa says:

    Well, if there weren’t any enemies there there may still have been traps or dissenting locals… but regardless if they encountered little to no resistance I find it hard to applaud them energetically.
    I agree it is a job well done though, at least there’s no civvie casualties this way, even if I prefer violence.

  • misc. says:

    Thank you Arnefufkin for your comment. You seem to have a fairly descent knowledge base. Army Special forces are the only soldiers who work with the Commando’s. They created them and are still developing them to this day. The biggest problem in the media and the general population in regards to Special Operation is that they just refer to all of them as Special Fores. Army Special Forces, Green Beret’s, are the only spec ops unit with this title. Seals, “Rangers…hahha” etc. are simply special operations.
    Thumpya, sorry it is hard for you to believe there was no collateral damage from the airstrikes prior to the assault but this is in fact true.
    Now, I was one of those “advisors” i.e. SF on this mission. The most disappointing things in all coverage of this event is that it is never mentioned that we stayed for 24 days protecting this village with no strategic significance. The Commando’s took casualties, and one gave his life for this. That being said, no, they are not very good. They were on the verge of mutiny by the end of about two weeks. If they don’t care about defending their own country why are we there holding their hands doing it for them.
    Thank you all for your support.


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