ISAF: Haqqani Network suffered heavy losses in assault on Paktika outpost

The Haqqani Network suffered heavy losses in yesterday’s massed assault on a US combat outpost in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika. The International Security Assistance Force estimated that 78 Haqqani Network fighters were killed and said two more were captured, while Afghan officials claimed that more than 80 fighters had been killed.

Haqqani Network forces launched the attack just after midnight on Oct. 30, attacking Combat Outpost Margah in Paktika’s Bermal district from four sides while mortar and rocket teams fired on the troops.

The Haqqani Network was backed by fighters from al Qaeda as well as the Taliban, and several hundred fighters as well as a large support element are believed to have participated in the attack, a US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

The top US generals in the region attributed good intelligence and a well-sited observation post with aiding in the defeat of the Haqqani Network assault.

“We had multiple indicators an attack like this was going to happen in that area in an attempt to gain victory before the end of the fighting season, and our combined Afghan and coalition forces were ready for them,” said Major General John Campbell, the commanding general of Regional Command-East.

“COP Margah has a squad-sized observation element on the high ground near the COP to provide early warning to the main base,” Brigadier General Stephen Townsend, the operations chief for Regional Command East, said. “Not only did the Soldiers and Afghan Border Policemen warn of the attack, they also disrupted it for approximately 20 minutes allowing the main defense to decisively respond. Once their mission was complete, they repositioned to reinforce the main defense.”

Since late August, the Haqqani Network has carried out six major assaults against US combat outposts in Khost, Paktika, and Paktia provinces. US and Afghan troops defeated all of the attacks, often inflicting heavy casualties on Haqqani Network forces. [For more information on the recent and previous assaults, see LWJ report, US troops repel Haqqani Network assault on eastern Afghan base.]

Top US military commanders, including General David Petraeus, have claimed that the Haqqani Network’s leadership has been disrupted by the heavy regimen of special operations forces raids that have killed or captured scores of mid- and senior-level commanders and facilitators.

Some US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal disagree, however, and said the latest attack is an indication that the Haqqani Network remains cohesive, despite the failure of the attack.

“Planning, organizing, and executing a complex attack involving hundreds of fighters, mortar teams, and support elements requires command and control, and the Haqqanis still have those capabilities,” a military intelligence officer said. “As long as they are untouchable in Pakistan, they’ll be able to carry out attacks such as the one at COP Margah. And they only need to succeed once; overrunning a US base would have a devastating impact.”

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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  • Tim says:

    More than the figure of 78, what is more important is that Afghan forces and ISAF were able to beat back the attack. It will no doubt be a psychological blow to Haqqani…and an even bigger shot in the arm for the nascent Afghan forces.
    78 fighters were just fodder for the ISI. India has killed thousands of Pakistani terrorists in Kashmir in the last 20 years. Yet the ISI is able to find more poor, illiterate, radicalized, brainwashed souls to be sacrificial lambs. Same is happening in Afghanistan. Until the ISI is not targeted by NATO, these 78 blokes would be easily replaced – again and again. Kill the HEAD, no use cutting just the FINGERS.

  • Keith Gentile says:

    The Haqqani Network may also have just pushed forward every last bit of their resources for this attack. We just don’t know. We also didn’t know the Vietcong were sunk after Tet and that the Vietnamese had been dealt a crippling blow.
    Just imagine it: they sent out 300 soldiers, 78 definitely didn’t make it back (probably more died on the way). And if they take casualties like anybody else, they should have at least two-to-one wounded to dead. That leaves 60 healthy (though probably shell-shocked) survivors carrying back 160 wounded and bleeding comrades from the original 300 gung-hos they sent out.
    That’s not much of an advertising slogan for joining the Haqqani Network. And certainly not the thing victories are made of. Unless, that is, we turn them into victories by lauding their ability to organize such a disaster.

  • Gitsum says:

    Case of beer for COP Margah, well done, just letting you now that someone is paying attention.

  • DaveB says:

    “… a squad-sized observation element on the high ground … warn(ed) of the attack … disrupted it for approximately 20 minutes … (and) repositioned to reinforce the main defense ….”
    That “repositioning” must have been something. These guys are really, really good. Other reports indicated 4 US troops, lightly wounded, continued the fight. Old guys know it doesn’t always work out like this, but this result tempts one to quote our much-disparaged former Commander in Chief, “Bring It On!”

  • Bill says:

    If the people leading this effort believe that one successufl attack against a small outpost would be devastating, we need new leadership. We’re bound to lose at least one such engagement in a war of any length. How can a superpower be so feckless?

  • 0321 says:

    I’m sorry, but I dont see how organizing a few hundred guys to assault a base is a clear indication of anything. Add to that the fact that they lost what would likely be most of the actual assault force, like they typically do, and I cannot think this is anything more than overly cautious talk from people assigned to desks. The same people who will write or contribute to an obscure book later on to try and justify their stance in giving the enemy credit for simply existing.
    Of course they are sill dangerous, a group of armed men always will be. Their COs, LTs, and NCO equivalents are sound tacticians. but they have indeed taken some very serious loses, and they still die in large numbers even when they have a massive advantage.
    My feeling is that the H-groups stomping ground will likely be the lasting sore of A-stan. The South will be largely pacified, and the North and East will always remain a place where a relatively low-level insurgency, that ultimately targets civilians almost exclusively. And that H-group will remain the driving factor in that. But count me in the group who thinks that we have turned a corner, and the Taliban coffin doesn’t have a whole lot of nails left to add.

  • Bullseye says:

    I agree with giving the troops some kind of reward!
    “Case of beer for COP Margah, well done, just letting you now that someone is paying attention. ”
    Fully agreed.

  • madashell59 says:

    0321: i disagree to your point that “organizing a few hundred guys to assualt a base is an indication of anything”. Although I have no military training but management experience I know that even organizing 20 men to attack from all four sides takes some kind of organization but to add 300 ground and mortar and missile fighters from various organizations definetly requires Top and Middle management or in this case Commanding officers of some sort. Otherwise their losses would have been even greater.
    Although the troops must be commended for their victory if we had good intelligence of such an attack I would have hoped for all 300 to be sent to Allah or at least a lot more than 2 captured. But hey I am not there and I have no military background and no losses on our side.
    Thanks to all that are fighting for the freedom of many.

  • blert says:

    If nothing else, this attack displays opfor folly.
    The strategy behind it must surely be media focused. In recent weeks there have been repeated high ‘media’ attacks.
    For example: the UN assault was pure media attack. After Iraq I don’t quite understand why anyone wants to position UN assets in-country.
    It also seems probable that opfor tactics are by now so predictable that they are in a ‘u-boat’ rut. In that long-ago campaign the u-boats found out the hard way that they had no Plan B when the convoys were able to find u-boats. Their entire campaign required stealth. They couldn’t carry on when exposed.
    ISAF tactics apply that lesson against these unlawful combatants. Drones have replaced B-24 oceanic patrols. The opfors must concentrate prior to complex attacks. Any such gathering is prone to discovery.
    During the Sub War long distance detection was had by triangulating radio-telegraphic signals at sea.
    Today, various technical means are used to narrow down where the opfor is. Hence, no pattern bombing like Arc Light is on the table.
    Looking at the high altitude imagery it is hard to see opfor NOT being channeled while on the march. Which puzzles me; we must be spread too thin to pick off the opfor while they are in transit.
    They certainly look obvious enough when self-filming for YouTube!

  • m says:

    I was in Khost in ’07 and HQ network/TB was always attacking COP Margah. The fact that they attacked with as large a force as this tells me Siraj is desparate for a symbolic victory. He did the same thing in Paktia in ’07 on an ODA base and took a beating. as for striking these guys when they mass, we can not hit them when they are massing because they are in PK “cutting wood”. We only do “surgical strikes” in PK. Look at the political fallout from the Apache cross border Op. All we can do is watch and wait, then when HQ/TB attacks, our guys eat them up. Bravo Zulu COP Margha!

  • ImpRoV68w says:

    a lot of us guys here in this cop follow the long war journal… thank you for that case of beer fellas 😉 i wish you all could of seen our boys in action. motivates me still, even days after the attack

  • Rhyno327 says:

    Sounds like a bit of desperation. Now is the time to really put the pedal to the metal. Its a shame these guys gotta wait until they decide to attack, iam sure if they were able to strike first, they would. Since US per. can’t, CIA paramilitaries, drones, and a little airpower could flush Siraj out.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Is that base still manned by the 187th crew of the Rakkasan Brigade? That’s a pretty daunting outfit to try to overrun.

  • ImpRoV68w says:

    no 187 left a long time ago.. Currahee 2/506th runs it now


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