Taliban step up cross-border attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Over the past several months, the Taliban and allied terror groups have increased attacks on remote areas in northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. These attacks are often launched from across the border, by members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban in conjunction with groups such as al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The Taliban launched two such attacks over the past three days, one in the Kamdish district in the remote Afghan province of Nuristan, and another in the district of Upper Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.

The larger attack took place in Kamdish in Nuristan, when “hundreds of Taliban fighters, mostly Pakistanis,” crossed the border from Dir in Pakistan and targeted police checkpoints throught the district, Brigadier General Aminullah Amarkhel, commander of Afghan Border Police in the east, told Pajhwok Afghan News.

Scores of people, including 23 Afghan policemen, more than 40 Taliban fighters, and five Afghan civilians were killed during heavy fighting for control of the district, Jamaludin Badar, the governor of Nuristan, told Xinhua. General Amarkhel said 12 Pakistani Taliban fighters were killed during the fighting.

“Taliban insurgents, many of them foreign nationals, have retreated and the district is in our control,” Badar said.

Kamdish has been effectively under Taliban control since US forces withdrew from combat outposts in the district in the fall of 2009 after an attack by a large Taliban and al Qaeda force. In late 2009, 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. At the time, ISAF commanders said the remote provinces of Nuristan and Kunar will be dealt with after more strategic regions in the south, east, and north have been addressed. But with the announcement of the drawdowns of over 33,000 US forces and thousands more forces by other ISAF countries over the next year, ISAF will not be able to move sufficient numbers of troops to the northeast to tackle the problem.

Other districts in Nuristan are either contested or under Taliban control. The Taliban overran the district of Waygal at the end of March. The status of Barg-e-Matal district is unclear; it changes hands between the government and the Taliban frequently. Heavy fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban has taken place in Doab recently as well. Governor Badar claimed in May that an estimated “500 Arabs, Chechen, Pakistani, and Afghan fighters” were planning to overrun Doab.

Across the border, in Dir district in Pakistan, “[h]undreds of militants from Afghanistan launched a simultaneous attack on two villages early Wednesday morning, destroying three schools and 20 shops,” according to a report in Xinhua. Pakistani Frontier Corps troops backed by local tribal militias repelled the attack and killed 11 Taliban fighters, according to the report.

Since the end of April, the Taliban have launched three other major attacks into Dir and and the neighboring tribal agency of Bajaur. On June 16, five civilians were killed in an assault on a village in Bajaur. On June 1, a large Taliban force attacked a police station in Upper Dir, sparking three days of heavy fighting that resulted in 40 security personnel and 45 Taliban killed. And on April 22, a large Taliban force estimated at several hundred strong overran a Frontier Corps checkpoint in Lower Dir, killing 16 security personnel during a protracted battle.

The attacks on both sides of the border are directed by Qari Zai Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda leader who operates in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand, as well as in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Qari Zia leads forces in al Qaeda’s Lashkar-al-Zil, or Shadow Army [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’ for more details].

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 kalnay says:

    Once again it appears that the enemy is willing to do whatever it takes, wherever it needs to be done, while we have our hands tied by Washington…
    jt Kalnay
    author of Wounded Warriors

  • David says:

    I am surprised that attacks like these are
    difficult for us. A group of hundreds
    of armed men on motorcycles, according
    to what I’ve read, is very easy to spot
    with our current radars. Correct me if
    I’m wrong, Bill, but I think such a group
    could ONLY be Taliban, and therefore
    immediately attack-able. Why can’t we
    hit these guys as soon as they form up, before
    they even get to their destination?

  • Neonmeat says:

    I find this line very interesting:
    “Taliban insurgents, many of them foreign nationals, have retreated and the district is in our control,” Badar said.
    As I understand it the Taliban began as a wholly Pashtun Afghani organisation. Does this mean that the taliban is no longer a ‘nationalist movement’ that they are welcoming foreigners into their ranks?
    If so would this not deligitimise them in the eyes of the actual Afghan natives particularly the Pashtun Tribal group that claim to support them? I would be interested to hear your thoughts Bill, is this just a verbal slip or perhaps an indication, as you often assert, that AQ and the Taliban are working much closer together than many would like to admit?
    (I realise that at the start of the post you mention that the attacks are jointly organised its just the fact he mentioned foreign fighters being actual Taliban rather than AQ militants or LeT etc that caught my notice)

  • My2Cents says:

    In general Pakistani estimates have to be adjusted by reducing the numbers of enemy troops by a factor of 5, enemy casualties by a factor of 3, and doubling Pakistani military and police casualties.

  • Nick Hanz says:

    Actually, a Pakistani general has rejected the Pakistani Taliban’s claim of responsibility behind the Dir attacks. He went on further to implicate that the US was behind it. When you examine the issue further and you take into account the Afghan paramilitary known as the Khost Protection Force, the puzzle comes together.
    These attacks in Dir don’t bear any resemblance to a usual raid. You basically have these people crossing into Dir, burning houses and running away. According to several reports, the people also spoke broken pashto.
    Hence, Pakistan appears to understand exactly what this is, and refuses to conduct an operation in the tribal areas at the US request.
    For evidence, the Khost Protection Force, themselves admit conducting border incursions. Watch PBS documentary (Kill/Capture and Fighting the Taliban)

  • Soccer says:

    I don’t understand that, explain. What is the reason to believe the Paks are lying? They have been right in the past.

  • Nick Hanz says:

    Read this. It should give you more of an indication about what exactly is going on.

  • kimball says:

    This story from Daily Times sums uo the complexity
    quite well.
    The Turis are the only “stopper” for infiltration to Afghanistan from Kurram.

  • JayR says:

    I’ve always wondered why we haven’t used our air power to inflict casualties on these groups? We cntrol the skies, and an attack has to form up, and when they move they virtually have to walk out of the battlefield. Couldn’t we deploy Predators & Reapers, to fix their locations, and followthem with Fighter bombers hitting them when they stop to rest, before they get back over the border into Pakistan, also wouldn’t “Hot Pursuit” apply allowing them to be struck over the Pakistani border.
    If they can amass and disperse without the fear of attack, then we’ve been fighting this conflict with our hands tied behind our backs and without expending adequate coverage to either our troops or whatever “allies” we have in the field.

  • GB says:

    200 men is a mighty fine target for an airstrike. Re-route a few drones to the region and they won’t assemble in company-sized formations any longer. Spec Ops teams and Afghan commandos should be sent in to call down airstrikes.

  • Nick Hanz says:

    @ JayR,
    We have not been fighting this conflict with our hands tied behind our backs. That is just an excuse by people who do not want to accept that we have lost.
    The civilian casualties by raids and airstrikes should show in fact that this has been a rather open handed war.
    There are airstrikes nearly everyday. Just today, an airstrike killed 8 Afghan children.
    Thus, the perception is that our hands are not tied at all.
    What happens, when civilians are against us? Well, what always happens as Sun Tzu predicted.

  • GB says:

    Hundreds of troops were recently dropped into Kunar against foreign fighters.
    “American forces were concerned enough about this remote area becoming a safe haven for militants that they launched a large clearing operation in late June, dropping hundreds of troops into forests 9000 feet up”

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Nick Hanz seems to be engaging in wishful thinking as his representations regarding the status and prospects of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the consensus of Afghan citizens do not remotely comport with all reports of reality on the ground.


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