Special operations forces kill 3 Haqqani commanders in Khost

ISAF said that three Haqqani Network commanders were killed during a raid in the Nadir Shah Kot district in Khost province on April 22. One of the commanders was the district leader and personally led assaults on US combat outposts in the district. From the ISAF press release:

Among those killed was the senior Haqqani leader for the Nadir Shah Kot district, Salih Khan. He directed explosive-device attacks, logistics and communications for Haqqani insurgents operating in the area. Over the last week, he led 20 fighters in two separate attacks on coalition forward operating bases.

Salih Khan also directed homemade bomb fabrication training and worked with other Haqqani leaders employing vehicle-borne explosive-device attacks throughout the district.

Also killed during the operation was Salih Khan’s deputy, Sarghai. He worked alongside Salih Khan orchestrating attacks, most notably explosive-devise attacks throughout the district.

The third insurgent killed was a Haqqani leader named Shamour, who was co-located with the other two leaders in a remote compound. According to intelligence reports, he was a trusted member in Khan’s attack cell and was responsible for explosive-device and small-arms attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

This year, Afghan and coalition forces have been able to disrupt multiple planned attacks by targeting key Haqqani personnel. The combined force has captured or killed more than 15 Haqqani leaders and over 130 Haqqani insurgents since Jan. 1. More than 90 of these captures were in Khost province.

The Haqqani Network is intricately linked with al Qaeda and allied terror groups. Khost province is also a key hub for al Qaeda and an allied terror group known as the Islamic Jihad Union (or Islamic Jihad Group). ISAF special operations forces have carried out 25 raids against al Qaeda and IJU cells in Khost since September 2009. On April 20, ISAF raided an al Qaeda safe house in Khost.

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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12 Comments

  • Mat says:

    Eh,
    Another “commander,” another day. How many commanders have we killed in the last 10 years?
    It’s not an anti-war rant, but it seems like every time we kill a commander, three or four pop up in his place. It’s like fighting a hydra.

  • Vincent says:

    I’ve always wondered just how effective taking out their leadership is. that is, how many replacements are waiting in the wings and the level of training/experience these replacements have.
    When a commander is taken out do they simply promote some grunt in the area or is their a training base somewhere(likely in Pakistan).
    As well, how noticeable is the drop-off of attacks in the period of when a commander is taken out and the time it takes for a new one to reintegrate into their network.

  • blert says:

    mat
    We never ran out of Germans or Japanese to attack us, either. Until the very last hours, they just kept coming and coming.
    It’s the nature of warfare.
    BTW, the term ‘commander’ in irregular warfare really just means ‘officer’ — one running quasi-independent operations.
    Each such player will coordinate the efforts of a handful of irregular squads.
    While such modest formations seem trite — in irregular warfare even fielding twenty men is quite a project. Such formations would rate 1st Lt or Capt grade officers.
    They also double as training formations. In irregular warfare the next generation of leadership is established by field proof.
    Hence, anyone who demonstrates superior technique in road mining is a high value target.

  • Mark says:

    But couldn’t you say the same about crime? Everytime we arrest a bank robber or a murderer another one pops up?

  • Mat says:

    blert,
    With three exceptions (Kasserine Pass, Anzio beachhead and the Ardennes), the Germans were on the defensive when we entered the war. Even those actions were pretty limited in scope. They were fighting on three different fronts (Eastern, Western and Italian). They never had enough men for a sustained offensive.
    As far as the Japanese, again they were mostly tactical offensive (and pretty inept at that), but strategically defensive. They were also fighting on multiple fronts (China, Burma, Pacific).
    I seem to recall the Vietnamese threw a lot of people at us as well. We lost that one.
    BTW, it’s not the nature of warfare to just sit back and tit-for-tat someone else. That’s a great way to lose a war. Even we don’t have a limitless supply of patience, money or manpower. And I’d say with conviction that the patience has run out and money is about to run out. War runs on money (in its most basic sense). Soldiers expect to be paid, equipment has to be bought. Food costs money as well. Hard to run a war when the economy collapses. How much are we in debt again? I say this not as tongue in cheek. This is a serious question. Sooner or later we’ll have to pay the piper. But we will pay him.
    I noticed that 450 Taliban (plus 100 “commanders”) got out of a prison in Kandahar. Kinda removes the high-fiving of killing one or two every two days don’t you think? Those commanders alone will cost us another month to get them, at the very least.

  • TimSln says:

    Vincent,
    In my opinion, it depends how many and how fast you are taking out the leadership.
    There is a deep pool of replacement candidates, but if you take out a large number at a relatively quick rate, the pool will eventually dwindle. The leaders are replaced by less trained/experienced commanders who are more prone to make mistakes. In the long run, this could make a difference.
    The key is to drain the pool faster than the enemy can fill it.
    With the increased tempo of Special Ops raids by Gen. Petraeus, this will be put to the test. The spring fighting will be a factor in determining how effective taking out the leadership has been.
    The good: there have been reports of mid-level leaders and field commanders being hestitant to return to Afghanistan, leading to tensions with senior leadership in Pakistan. This is due to the Special Ops raids.
    The bad: the mass prison escape…a big body blow…ughhhh…
    At least the top leaders probably are not among those who escaped.
    //www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/04/25/501364/main20056955.shtml?asid=af7d592e
    “The highest-profile Taliban inmates would likely not be held at Sarposa. The U.S. keeps detainees it considers a threat at a facility outside of Bagram Air Base in eastern Afghanistan. Other key Taliban prisoners are held by the Afghan government in a high-security wing of the main prison in Kabul.”

  • James says:

    @Mat
    Mat, to win wars or to defend freedom and democracy, it costs money, and it takes sacrifice and a whole lot of both.
    However, I’m trying not to be political, but there is a group of well off people here in the US that have not paid their fair share in my humble opinion.
    In the aftermath of 9/11, why didn’t they declare war? It is inexcusable for them not to have done so. One may argue that: “There was no one to declare war on.” Mat, how can there be a war if there is no one to declare war on?
    However, the Constitution clearly states that Congress shall have power to declare war PERIOD (it doesn’t say they have to name who or what they are declaring war on).
    Even if one were to insist on declaring war on something, why couldn’t they (or should they not now) declare war on Al Queda?
    What got US into our current economic mess are the 2 wars AND the huge Bush tax cuts. They wanted “the guns AND the butter.” But, sometimes you can’t have both guns and butter and you’re stuck with guns OR butter.
    It saddens me that bin laden wanted to attack our economic might and we have allowed that to happen.
    To get US out of our current economic mess, we all (whether rich or poor or in between) are going to have to share the sacrifice.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Always annoys me whenever someone automatically thinks that “Taliban commander” = Mullah Omar, Hakeemullah Mehsud, and Siraj Haqqani.
    If anything, these mid-level and low-level Taliban/AQ “commanders” are basically the equivalent of NCOs and Lieutenants in a modern military.

  • Nolan says:

    @Mat
    While I never “pooh-pooh” a quality raid/mission/kill, you brought up a good point about the over-use of the term. It seems to be a word we slap on individuals-rarely the other way around.
    The replies that try to justify the overuse of “commander” usage in our reporting cannot use modern military thinking. If that were the case, I have a good feeling these “commanders” we always take out are nothing more than “squad leaders” (8 men +-). Maybe occasional “platoon leaders” (30 men +-). Neither are commanders according to army doctrine/terminology (that comes with company command (100-250 men). I’ll go further and argue that groups do not want to go too far as to tag individuals with titles like commander. They would prefer funding small cells to remain decentralized and prove their worth through videos and reports of their successes. Why link the web with clear lines only for us to rip it apart? They aren’t stupid.
    @blert could be correct when he states “‘commander’ in irregular warfare really just means ‘officer’ — one running quasi-independent operations. But I have my doubts on this as well.
    As I said, AIF/AAF etc have an extremely decentralized structure that could only persist in that form. If these jihadists had a structure and organization, we would have wrapped this thing up years ago (in my oh so humble opinion).

  • Bill Roggio says:

    As a rough rule of thumb I reserve the term “commander” for district level leaders. They typically lead around 100 fighters, give or take, and are often tapped when a provincial level or regional leader is killed/captured. ISAF will also use the term “facilitator” to to describe the free-lancers, these facilitators are often tapped to fill the role of district/regional level leaders killed or captured.
    Mat, to answer your question, the Taliban have been fighting the Northern Alliance and then the US/ISAF/ANSF for almost 20 years. They have a deep bench to tap for leadership.

  • JOEL Z. WILLAMS says:

    I agree that it seems there is no end in sight for available enemy”commanders”. But as anyone who knows something about unit organization can tell you there is always a period of reduced effectiveness and overall unit cohesion when a leader is removed. Hopefully, the US can capitalize on that brief period of inertia and get inside the enemy’s “OODA Loop” as Col. Boyd called it. the decision making cycle. An increased op tempo now could cripple them before the bulk of the summer fighting season gets underway.

  • Mat says:

    James,
    I agree that with the initial statement. However, it’s clear now that we’re (and I mean most of the country) is not prepared to pour infinite amounts of money into a war or country that gives little in return.
    I believe in the total war concept. Either go all the way to win it (and yes, that means our military might have to get a little more nasty than they have been) or not fight it at all. Over the last 10 years, we’ve fought a half-assed war. I don’t think that can be argued. I’m not saying the soldiers have done so. They merely follow marching orders and have done an amazing job despite all the idiocy above (and there’s plenty of blame to go around here…not making a political point).
    As far as declaring war, I’ve said since the beginning that until you go after Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, this will continue forever with no good end result. One cannot fight at the edges and ignore the core. To use a WWII analogy, the equivalent would be for us to fight forever in North Africa (and maybe Scandinavia since Churchill was really big on that), but never actually invade Europe proper. Sound dumb? Well, the way we’re fighting this is as well.
    Economic sacrifice? Really? Good luck peddling that to the voters. The problem is that no one wants to sacrifice. Everyone wants the guns and butter. I concur that you can’t have both, but the majority of Americans believe in this fantasy. Reality will hit sooner or later.
    Nolan and Bill,
    Thanks for the clarification. That sounds about right.
    Agree with the deep bench bit. However, the question is how much time do we have left? As I said before, we can’t do this forever and this has/is/will drain us dry eventually. There has to be a giving point somewhere down the line and I don’t like the signs at this point.
    JOEL,
    Reduced effectiveness? I don’t really see much of a difference. I’ve followed this site for a couple of years now and it just seems that one day we get some of them and another day they get some of us. That’s been going on for 10 years and it’s expanding.
    How many times has the military said that whatever offensive they’ve undertaken was the decisive one? Marjah was supposed to be the beginning. All the enemy did was wait for the Marines to move on and they came right back and undermined us. This happens all the time. Same with Kandahar. Our forces push them back, and they pull something like the massive jailbreak a couple of days ago. How the hell do we win a war like this? It’s a rhetorical question.
    I sincerely hope that we have a dramatic change of view to how we’re prosecuting this war. Otherwise, we will lose it with all the consequences that go with that.

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