Special operations forces deal blows to Taliban ranks

Coalition and Afghan special operations teams have hit hard at the Taliban and allied groups’ leadership and rank and file during more than 7,000 raids throughout Afghanistan over the past six months.

Approximately 7,100 special operations counterterrorism missions have been conducted between May 30 and Dec. 2 of this year, the International Security Assistance Force told The Long War Journal. More than 600 insurgent leaders were killed or captured. In addition, more than 2,000 enemy fighters have been killed, and over 4,100 fighters have been captured.

The enemy commanders and fighters killed or captured are from various jihadist groups battling Coalition and Afghan forces, including the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Hizb-i-Islami, al Qaeda, and the Islamic Jihad Group.

The numbers of insurgents killed or captured include only those targeted in special operations raids, ISAF stated. These numbers do not include Taliban and allied fighters killed or captured during conventional counterinsurgency operations, or during massed Taliban assaults on Coalition and Afghan bases.

Within the same time frame, special operations troops also completed more than 2,500 humanitarian operations, including the provision of medical and educational assistance.

The intensity of the special operations raids over the past six months reflects a shift from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism operations.

In a speech at the National Press Club on Dec. 8, General James Cartwright, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, noted that such a shift has been taken place to adjust to the realities on the ground in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s ability to conduct raids from Pakistan’s tribal areas, then retreat across the border rest and recuperate, has forced ISAF to adjust its strategy and target the Taliban’s lines of communications into Pakistan.

“The COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy is balanced by a counterterrorism strategy,” Cartwright said. “When we started, we probably were more aligned with counterinsurgency. The emphasis is shifting.”

“We need to reduce those lines of communication and reduce that flow to the best of our abilities,” Cartwright continued. “So the balance of the force that was really weighted more toward counterinsurgency is starting to shift to have an element of counterterrorism larger than we thought we were going to need when we started.”

The US has also been conducting a covert air campaign using unmanned Predator and Reaper strike aircraft to attack al Qaeda and Taliban cells in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Pakistani military has refused to move against the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, despite the fact that these groups host al Qaeda leaders and cells and sponsor attacks in Afghanistan.

Partial list of top-level terrorist leaders killed or captured during raids over the past six months:

Mullah Aktar, a wanted Taliban commander with links to al Qaeda and to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed during a raid on an al Qaeda training camp in Farah province on July 15.

Abu Baqir, who was described as “a dual-hatted Taliban sub-commander and al Qaeda group leader,” and who was also a senior leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Kunduz, was killed in an Aug. 14 raid.

Sayed Shah, a wanted commander in Jamaat ul Dawa al Quran, an al Qaeda-linked Taliban sub-group, was killed on Aug. 19.

Mohammed Amin, the deputy shadow governor for Takhar province who was also a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commander, was killed in a Sept. 2 airstrike.

Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi, a Saudi al Qaeda commander in Kunar, was killed with several al Qaeda commanders and fighters in an airstrike on Sept. 25.

Qari Ziauddin, the shadow governor for Faryab province, was killed on Oct. 5.

Mullah Ismail, the Taliban’s shadow governor of Badghis province, was killed during a raid on Oct. 6.

Gul Nabi, who was described by the US military as “a mid-level Taliban commander” and “an al Qaeda associate” in Kunar, was killed on Oct. 17.

An unnamed Haqqani Network leader who facilitated the purchase and distribution of weapons and ammunition used in attacks on Coalition and Afghan forces was captured on Nov. 9 while on a plane to Saudi Arabia.

Mullah Hafiz Janan, who served as the Taliban’s shadow governor for the Bakwah district in Farah province, was killed during a raid on Nov. 20. He helped train and arm al Qaeda fighters entering the country from Iran.

An unnamed senior financier from the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz (Front), a wing of the Taliban in south, was captured in Kandahar on Dec. 3.

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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  • Marlin says:

    This is an interesting article, the first of its kind that I can remember reading. Life’s not so pleasant for the Taliban either.

    But the insurgents themselves say psychological problems in their ranks are bad and getting worse

  • Gerald says:

    While winning hearts and minds is the ultimate goal in CI, it also necessary to destroy the insurgent`s image as an invincible ten foot tall giant. These night raids go a long toward shattering that myth.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Very intense. That’s 6,700+ Taliban removed from the field, 600 of them leaders, in only six months and only from special forces. Haven’t seen numbers like this since 2007 in Iraq after Operation Phantom Thunder.
    There’s still the first 5 months worth of 2010 not included in these figures at all, both special forces and conventional. I can only wonder what the total for the year will be, or if we’ll get to see it.

  • Max says:

    Kudos and well done to our troops!

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Your reports are highly valued Bill.
    Positive news doesn’t seem to ever fit the pre-ordained narrative of media outlets such as AP, The New York Times, Reuters, CNN and the Beeb.
    I just wish more Americans and citizens of the Coalition partners were privy to an accurate portrayal of events and conditions in Afghanistan – good as well as bad. But it didn’t happen in Iraq, either, and the outlook there is optimistic and improving regardless of that MSM malfeasance.
    So, there is still hope that the media storyline won’t suffocate real world perceptions of conditions and prospects on the ground in the Af-Pak theater as well.

  • samuel d. gatlin says:

    I salute the writers and editors of the LWJ. Been Following you for a year now.
    My question is, “why has the LWJ quit giving out names of militants thought to have been killed, during targeted drone strikes. Since it was discovered that they follow LWJ’s reporting, is it possible we chose to let them figure out for themselves who has been terminated

  • Musson says:

    In WWII Japan, the call was put out for Kamikazes willing to die for the Emperor and in death go immediately to live as a godlike Shinto warrior.
    Between 6000 and 8000 came forward. But, after the wave of fanatics died – the Japanese were forced to draft for the Kamikazes.
    No matter what you hear, there is always a finite supply of true fanatics.

  • Steve C. says:

    It’s amazing how much we’ve forgotten and had to re-learn over the past 50 years. The principles of war apply just as much to Iraq/Afganistan as they did to WWII or the American Civil War. What has happened over the past seven years is a struggle to identify the enemy’s center of gravity. It appears from these results that either by chance or design (I’m leaning towards design) the senior commanders have finally settled on the means to attack the enemy’s center of gravity.

    The logic goes something like this: IF the driving force behind the insurgency is supplied (money, leadership and materiel) from outside Afghanistan then the strategic approach is to isolate Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. Given the geography and paucity of troops, a cordon similar to what the French devised in Algeria, is not practical. Are there other means to isolate the battlefield? Yes, we have control of the air and have the ability to listen in on enemy communications. We also have robotic air strike capability that was science fiction as recently as the 1990s. We employ those combat multipliers to achieve two mutually supporting ends.

    Use Predator dominance to keep the higher level command structure at risk. Unlike Cambodia or Laos in the 1960s, we have the ability to deny the enemy command and support structures a stable environment to conduct sustainment and training. In and of itself, that’s not a game changer. But it forces the enemy’s infrastructure to spend resources on defense. It limits their flexibility and makes their radio and cell phone communication risky. And based on what I’ve read it appears to sow a certain amount of paranoia within the enemy command. Effectively, it keeps the enemy command off balance.

    The second method is to break the chain of command between outside Afghanistan and the interior where the insurgency is fought on the ground. It appears that the Taliban consists of three groups. The lowest level are local tribesmen who are enrolled or impressed to do the risky jobs of ambush and IED attacks. They are essentially mercenaries plying a trade no different than their forefathers have for hundreds of years. Some may also be motivated by traditional tribal and religious enmity. You can kill lots of them and you’ve achieved very little.

    The second group is the professional Taliban. Much like in Vietnam there was a hard core of cadre VC, these are the backbone of the insurgency. If you can kill or capture them and most importantly the middle managers who do all the planning, training and coordination then you put the enemy under great stress. They are the key link connecting the interior with the exterior. The third group, which I imagine is very small are the foreign fighters. I would expect that killing or capturing them would actually have little impact on overall operations as they appear to be marginal players in the large scheme. They seem to be somewhat isolated and tasked with very specialized operations.

    The other half of the equation is daily combat operations and development among the general population. Regardless of how successful the attacks on middle management are, it must be seen that NATO and Afghan troops have a presence and provide security to local villages. The population must be persuaded that we can provide security and development aid. The more visible and ubiquitous we appear, the more likely it is that the population will see our side as “winning”.

    Sadly, stability operations are the most deadly and have the greatest risk for the individual rifleman so maintaining their morale is just as important as killing bad guys.

    These sorts of reports give me hope. We have adapted to the situation, identified the enemy’s center of gravity and forged a method to attack him at his weakest point.

  • JRP says:

    There is no finite supply of suicide bombers. Their numbers are infinite. This is because they are our enemy’s version of a drone. Look at the demographics of the Islamic World. For so long as AQ/Taliban leadership ensconced in safe havens in Pakistan (presumably in Pakistan) is permitted by the West to send forth this swarm of strapped-up locusts, this War will go on and on. Right now in Europe and particularly in UK, France and Germany, the populace is more frightened now than it has ever been. Take a page out of what probably is the best Western ever filmed-High Noon. As the lyrics of the theme song say, the Town Sheriff, played by Gary Cooper, knew that only by killing his implacable enemy, the gunfighter Frank Miller, could he save his town, his family, and himself. And that is indeed what the West must come to understand vis-a-vis Osama Bin Ladin, Zawahiri, and the rest of the leadership.

  • C. P. says:

    By this accounting there are close to 40 Special Operations targeted raids a day . . . not including normal Special Forces operations and presumably not conducted concurrently with the Special Forces 2500 humanitarian operations. Hmmm. Given the amount of Special Forces soldiers presently deployed in the region over the period I would ask ISAF for a re-evaluation of those figures.
    Another troubling question is where do all those 4100 captured go? Private prisons are increasingly popular in the United States, but I never thought of it as an export industry.
    One should ask at what cost in national treasure to bag a functionally illiterate Afghani who will carry any flag for the right price vs. the actual risk posed to Western society.
    In short, I am not convinced this news constitutes progress.

  • Kenneth says:

    The number of suicide bombers is most definitely not infinite. The number of potential suicide bombers may be high, but to attract, cultivate, indoctrinate, train, arm and use suicide bombers requires considerable resources. These resources are being degraded daily, as the report demonstrates.

  • JT says:

    JRP –
    Respectfully, what do you think has been the goal all along?

  • blert says:

    It is NOT Politically Correct — but it is true: typical IQs in the FATA are 82 ish.
    This is due to poor pre-natal nutrition and in-breeding. ( Cousin marriage )
    Beyond that, ‘rote learning’ of the Koran does not stimulate the brain.
    A leadership personality requires an IQ of approximately 110 or better. Drawing from an intellectually impoverished base means that effective leaders are hard to come by, far more so than in Western armies.
    Hence, they are critically limiting talent. What appears to be pin pricks to our eyes is in fact devastating to Taliban ranks.
    The PTS Syndrome is a punch to the soul. The opfor propagates the myth that combat will be much more effective than it is for the muj. Crazed survivors are potent reminders of what the downside is for taking up arms against the ISAF and the Afghan Army.
    The AQ cadre is a critical force. It operates on exactly the same lines as Napoleons Imperial Guard: it protects the warlord and it stiffens the morale of the boyz during critical operations. It must be attrited at every opportunity.
    Of particular note is AQ’s use of ‘white’ unlawful combatants wearing our uniforms to perpetrate outrages against our Afghan allies. This is a fantastic force multiplier for the opfor.
    Because the Karzai Government is triangulating with the Taliban — or trying to — captured opfor leaders are being cut loose right and left. The ISAF is going to have to change policy WRT these fellas. Plainly, they can not be shunted to Kabul anymore.
    BTW, Afghan law is based upon Sharia. This means that it is IMPOSSIBLE for any muslim to be prosecuted for killing ISAF troops. Is it any wonder that opfor players are cut loose instantly?

  • Charu says:

    Kudos, indeed, to our brave troops! Congratulations and well done!
    @JRP, the numbers of homicide bombers may be “infinite”, but they still need a safe territory to be trained and armed. Take away this sanctuary and their effectiveness will greatly diminish. This also applies to those who would directly do us harm in the US. The trail always leads back to Pakistan. Bin Laden, Zawahiri are useful idiots being played by larger state players like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China to serve their interests. It is these state-sponsors of terrorism who need to feel the pain in order to change their behavior before one can save the country, family and themselves.

  • Graham says:

    Wasn’t there a report very similar to this one a few months back, detaining night raids and massive enemy casualties?

  • TimSln says:

    Great job by special operation forces! Petraeus is doing what he can.
    Only, if the Afghan government would tackle corruption and get fully on board. Like Karzai supporting, not criticizing, the raids and not releasing some of those captured.

  • lh says:

    I do not see many reports on what we are doing to reduce/eliminate the funding from Saudi Arabia. We know that the Pakistanis will not shut down the Taliban and will tolerate them and sometimes give them aid. I wonder if we interdict the Talibans’ supply of weapons? Good article about some progress in the war.

  • Civy says:

    …and without indiscriminately carpet bombing whole villages out of existence and killing 2-3 million Soviet style.
    All the same, kind of tragic that 4,100 couldn’t be shown the door to paradise through the doorway of an airborne helicopter.
    While we’re on that subject, has anyone seen any of those steeled, rock-hard Afghans who laugh at battle after 100 yrs of war? I ask because 1980 called and they want to know.
    Somehow they’ve all mutated into a bunch of whiny victims who complain when the most restrictive ROEs in the world can’t keep them safe from the fortunes of war.

  • nope says:

    @blert: You wrote: “It is NOT Politically Correct — but it is true: typical IQs in the FATA are 82 ish. ”
    What’s your source for that?

  • SSR says:

    Another prime report from LWJ! Keep up the good work! /SSR dk

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Of course there was, only the numbers have gone up considerably since then.

  • john says:

    this has not resulted in any decrease in the number of attacks that the Taliban have been able to perform. less than 10% of the raids have resulted in the kill/capture of a high level commander. There are still more Taliban checkpoints IN Kandahar then ISF checkpoints

  • JRP says:

    JT . . . Frankly, I think our eyes came off the prize once we decided
    to go after Iraq. Ever since then we’ve, overall, gone from focusing on
    the elimination of Al Qaeda to focusing on how to disrupt AQ’s attack
    plans against us. For how long can we really keep batting 1,000? We’ve
    gone from a goal of fixing the roof to a goal of trying to empty the
    buckets as quickly as possible. The story that started this lengthy
    thread of comments is telling us that we are waging a successful war of
    attrition. We are not. AQ has got us running around like headless chickens. Yes, we are killing lots of them, but the
    problem is that AQ can field an indefinite supply of cannon fodder for
    us to kill, if we are only killing them by the dozens at best instead
    of by the thousands, which is what is needed for this strategy to work. Kill the heads of AQ/T
    and we’ll win this war. Otherwise, we’ll just be endlessly cycling in
    generation after generation of valiant special ops soldiers to shovel
    sand against the tide. Also, it must be realized that the longer our special ops missions or covert missions go on, the greater the likelihood that some of our forces are going to wind up as POWs.

  • JB says:

    Special Operations have been working overtime.Man they have some an important yet secret role within this war.

  • carl says:

    Of the 4,100 “fighters” detained, how many were released because they were not “fighters” at all or because they had enough political pull to walk out the door? I am slightly skeptical.

  • J Harlan says:

    According to this article the average casualties caused the enemy by a SOF raid is one? If you presume that the enemy hang out in groups of at least two or three that would mean that 75% of raids are attacking empty targets and that’s if you believe the body count.
    Of the people captured how many have subsequently been released. How many weren’t even the enemy?
    I suggest the figures given are probably incorrect and designed for propaganda purposes.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @C.P. – Since you referred to detainee operations I thought I’d refer you to a very recent briefing by Vice Admiral Harward who runs that show (for the Coalition) in Afghanistan:
    The vid is also available at http://www.pentagonchannel.com. Regards.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @john: you cite some statistics on the Kandahar battlespace. Could you direct me to the source of your information? The Kandahar scene has been less clear than the Helmand operation and operations in RC-East.

  • J Harlan says:

    I forgot to add an obvious additional downside to my skepticism about the figures given; the SOF could have raided thousands of homes of innocent folks.
    I dealt with one international NGO that had its medical clinics raided nine times over a six month period. The story was always the same. The SOF were confused about who was who and after flex cuffing the local staff and ignoring the theft of property (cell phones and cash) by ANSF left without an explanation. And of course in every case the US maneuver unit and PRTs in the area knew nothing about anything.

  • Elaine Morton says:

    Thank God for the ability to obtain this information, and blessings and Cheers to our TROOPS! Long way from the OIL FIELDS of the Lonestar State!

  • Erik says:

    JRP: The enemies pool of capable, effective suicide bombers is not as deep as you would think, and there is a well documented history of their guys (of all flavor) not being able to handle the pressure of ‘when things go wrong’ during the execution of their martyrdom mission. It really is harder than you think to find a young kid weak enough to convince to become a martyr, but yet smart enough to overcome hiccups in a highly scripted plan that he’s been fed. I mean, how do you think we broke open the east African embassy bombings in 1998…that would be the idiot that fled on foot from one of the suicide vehicles and was later caught at a local hospital getting treated for his wounds.
    Or why exactly did the USS COLE get blown up and not THE SULLIVANS earlier in the year???
    I can’t speak to Afghanistan, but we had a chance to talk to hundreds of idiots in Iraq who we should have been scrapping up with spatulas. Idiots or sniveling cowards to the last.

  • JRP says:

    Erik . . . I’m not liking the KIA and WIA ratios of late. Obviously, one KIA or WIA on our side is one too much, but just as obviously we are going to take casualties. The problem as I see it is that we are taking down maybe 5 KIAs of theirs while we are losing maybe 1 of ours. Probably WIAs are even narrower, but that would be due to the great medical treatment our side gets from the moment a casualty is taken. The official numbers on KIAs create a better ratio for us, but I’m not the only Commenter to be somewhat skeptical of the KIA reports emanating from our side. I well remember the Vietnam era when till the day we got run out of the country due to our left wing media at the time, we were reporting absurdly high body counts. Simply put, if we are going to fight this WoT as a war of attrition vice one of unconditional surrender, then we had better start nailing a lot more of the bad guys for each gallant good guy that goes down.

  • J Harlan says:

    Of course it’s a war of attrition. It’s a race to see if we can kill enough of them to change their minds before they kill enough of us or we spend enough money to change ours. So far they are winning….slowly.

  • J Harlan says:

    There is another rather obvious reason for the low enemy casualty count per SOF raid; they often attack the homes of innocent people. This of course pushes the victims toward supporting the Taliban. The question then therefore is the value in taking out some Taliban worth the damage done to relations with the locals? Probably not.

  • walt b says:

    please read this, and many links easily searchable, that attest to the challenge Muslim’s face due to inbreeding, inter-marriage, etc.

  • Dave Duffy says:

    Responding as frankly it is wearing me out that we continue to “bin” COIN engagement as non-kinetic and CT as pure kinetic. Let me be clear, COIN certainly involves killing people. Going out on a raid is not necessarily CT, it is Direct Action (look it up in our doctrine) supporting our COIN objectives. Before being able to reach the people to accomplish COIN objectives, or supporting the IDAD of a host nation, one most establish security so as to earn the trust of the populace. The insurgents are trying to do the opposite, conduct terrorism so as to erode the people’s confidence in the government’s ability to protect them thus making them more receptive to the insurgent message. So our increased use of DA recently in Afghanistan is needed in those areas where security is tenuous so as to enhance COIN objective accomplishment. Not my place to correct GEN Cartwright, but we aren’t balancing COIN strategy with CT, ISAF forces are using increased DA missions to ensure conditions on the ground make the populace more receptive to COIN engagement principles. In theory this is in support of Afghan IDAD, but increasingly I have my doubts on that. Which is another missive entirely.


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