Afghan, US forces launch offensive in Kunar


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

The Afghan Army and US military launched a major air assault yesterday in a remote district in eastern Afghanistan that borders Pakistan.

More than 700 US and Afghan troops were inserted by US Black Hawk helicopters into the Marawara district in Kunar province on Sunday and immediately came under fire from a large force of Taliban fighters, estimated at more than 200 men. Soon more Taliban fighters poured into the area to battle the battalion-sized assault force.

“Once the battle began, others from the area tried to maneuver into the area,” Colonel Andrew Poppas, the US Army commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, told The Washington Post. “This was a tough fight.”

The US military claimed that more than 150 Taliban fighters were killed in the attack during heavy fighting. Two US soldiers and one Afghan soldier were reported to have been killed during the assault.

The intense fighting ended earlier today, and US and Afghan forces are establishing security outposts in the remote district.

The US military announced the operation on Sunday but would not disclose details of the offensive to The Long War Journal, citing “operational security” concerns. Details of the operation in Kunar were later provided to The Washington Post by military officers in eastern Afghanistan.

On Sunday, the US military said that the operation targeted “al Qaeda and Taliban leadership in the area.” The names of the al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were not disclosed, and no senior leaders have been reported killed or captured at this time.

Taliban commander Qari Zia Rahman is the group’s top regional commander. He is also a seniro member of al Qaeda. Rahman operates in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan provinces, and also operates across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Bajaur. The Pakistani government claimed they killed Rahman in an airstrike earlier this year, but he spoke to the media and mocked Pakistan’s interior minister for wrongly reporting his death.

The top al Qaeda commander in Kunar is Abu Ikhlas al Masri, an Egyptian who has spent years in Afghanistan and has intermarried with the local tribes. Abu Ikhlas isal Qaeda’s operations chief for Kunar province in Afghanistan. He took command of Kunar province after Abu Ubaidah al Masri was promoted to take over al Qaeda’s external operations branch (Abu Ubaidah died in early 2008 of a disease).

It is unclear if the assault in Marawara marks a shift from the US’ strategy of retreating from the remote outposts in eastern Afghanistan. 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.

While US officials have viewed northeastern Afghanistan as less strategically significant than the south and east, the Taliban have seized on the opportunity to carve out safe havens in the region, which has facilitated the flow of insurgents into the region from Pakistan. Last fall, a US military official told The Long War Journal that the abandonment of these provinces would force the US and the Afghan military to retake the ground.

“Kunar and Nuristan have become magnets [for the Taliban and al Qaeda] in the northeast and we’re eventually going to have to deal with that problem,” the official said.

The withdrawal of US forces from the outposts in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province over the past year 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.

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.

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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  • JT says:

    Not too far from Khyber, Chitral and Parachinar. Maybe some very high value target(s)s were involved. Let’s hope so. The Afghan effort could use some good news.
    By the way, no recent updates on the supposed location of Mullah Omar, nor poking fun by mainstream media at Breitbart and Thor for the initial report. I would have thought one or the other would have occurred by now.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    JT, the “Mullah Omar captured” “story” from Big Government doesn’t dignify a response in my opinion, so I’m not going to provide one.

  • Civy says:

    Instead of sitting around on the defensive, in untenable positions (Warnat & Keating) reacting to them, we are on the offensive, making them react with all of our firepower on hand and prepared to annihilate them.
    JT, Khyber is quite a long way off for any Taliban ground reinforcement, and Parachinar a very, very long way off, as it is on the other side of the Tora Bora massif. Not sure if that was your perspective or not. The Pak border itself is a 10,000 ft ridgeline and both roads from the Pak side end in box canyons. Great kill zones.
    This is a great map of Kunar. Just keep hitting the “+” button and you can get great detail.
    I’m guessing they are trying to reinforce via the Bajaur Agency Rd, which would leave them very exposed if we are allowed to interdict on the Pak side with Reapers. Sounds like the Pak Army is providing an anvil for our hammer too.
    !!! GET SOME !!!

  • Civy says:

    I think the underlying tenet of this piece should be challenged – preferably by a military historian of impeccable qualifications. The opening sentence, in particular, is an attempt to terminate thought, and win by a feit compli.

  • Mr T says:

    This is good news. 150 to 2 in casualties? This is the way to fight the Taliban. When they group in large force sizes, they get hammered. When they tool around in small groups, we can’t hit them because they are “civilians” then, which is a farce.
    We have been there long enough by now to know some of the “smuggling” routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The insurgents have used these paths for generations but their strategic advantage should be waning as we learn them and map them out.
    We seem to know where the Taliban are. We just need to be cautious in how and when we go get them.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    These types of engagements present an excellent “kill box”. By maintaining contact, air assets assisted by thermal imaging make it extremely hard to evade the Nato forces. You can’t move very far in this terrain. Traditionally, afghan’s just don’t move when air elements in the area. They blended into the terrain and the pilots couldn’t pick them up. But now, imaging technology makes the sit and hide tactic very dangerous.

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    Taking the initiative is what we need to do. Make them come out and fight. Sounds like the bad guys took a good whuppin’ and damn keeep it going. I would presume there now are plenty of helo’s to really affect a big area. You never know when, wat nite, and they move fast. Excellent.

  • kp says:

    Civy: That site is a great source of PDF maps of Afghanistan!

    To find them all use site specific Google search for PDFs:

  • Al says:

    Bill, The article said Taliban had videos of the two bases abandoned, showing quantities of arms and ammuntion abandoned by US and Afghan troops.
    I find it hard to believe that US troops would abandon arms and ordance to Taliban. Except under the most sevbere conditions. Got to be pure propaganda.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I wish that were true, but sadly if you follow the video and watch the link, you’d see it wasn’t just propaganda.

  • Render says:

    Civy – Google the name of the author of that WashPost editorial. You’ll find that he is, in fact, a military historian of impeccable qualifications.
    I disagree vehemently with many of his conclusions and opinions, but his qualifications I cannot disagree with. He’s well earned the right to be wrong.
    The COIN mafia calls out its big guns.
    Al – For whatever it’s worth, I can confirm that large stockpiles of US mil equipment, including weapons and ammo, were abandoned by US troops at both bases. Including at least one Mk19 40mm auto grenade launcher with several hundred rounds of ammo and many claymore mines.
    Very not good.


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