Lashakr al Zil strong in Afghanistan-Pakistan border region

TIME reports on a clash in Kunar province, Afghanistan in late October 2011 between US and Afghan forces on one side, and the Taliban and their allies on the other. The Taliban attempted to overrun a platoon manning an observation post (OP) in the Kunar River Valley. An estimated 500 Taliban and allied fighters, including “Arabs and Chechens and Punjabis” – clearly the Lashkar al Zil, the military formation made up of al Qaeda and allied jihadist groups in the region – massed from Pakistan and assaulted the platoon of US and Afghan forces (numbering 23). From TIME:

The soldiers eventually won their battle at OP Shal, securing the Kunar River Valley from infiltration, eliminating insurgent roadblocks and opening it to civilian and military traffic. But the Taliban’s weeklong attack highlighted the many military problems facing Afghanistan, and it made clear that the outcome of the conflict remains far from certain.

Throughout the intense fighting, the besieged defending force of 36 U.S. and Afghan army soldiers fought off multiple suicide bombers and at least four overrun attempts by between 400 and 500 heavily armed insurgents, who had been trucked in from Pakistan and who managed to advance to within 5 m of U.S. positions. Afterward, the soldiers said they confirmed 115 kills but estimated at least 200 deaths. “It was the most coordinated thing any of us had ever seen, but just the sheer number of forces they had massing on that position was ridiculous,” Staff Sergeant Everett Bracey, of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2-27 Infantry Battalion, told TIME.

The attackers were reinforced and resupplied throughout the fight from bases and depots in the safe haven provided by Pakistan. “We saw 60 vehicles come out of Pakistan — just drive in,” said Staff Sergeant Anthony Fuentes, looking at a topographical map a few days after the battle. “This whole route, it goes all the way up into Pakistan. It’s a two-hour trafficable route from the border.” Added company commander Captain Michael Kolton: “It was Pashtuns and Arabs and Chechens and Punjabis — everyone and their sister joined in on this one.”

The defenders of OP Shal also recognized that their attackers had been well trained. “They used the standard operating procedures that the U.S. Army uses,” explained Fuentes. “We expected contact, but we didn’t expect that. Their fire was so heavy and precise that to get up and look at their near sector, the joes just had to say, ‘O.K., I’m just going to eat one in the face just to get up and see if somebody is moving on me.’ And every time they lifted their head up, there was somebody there.”

Sitting in his squad bay at Combat Outpost Monti, Sergeant Brandon Goodell told TIME, “They are motivated, they are trained, and they are proficient.” But what most surprised the Americans was the insurgents’ determination to regain this strategic mountaintop commanding a 6-km section of road in the main Kunar River Valley. “They were relentless. They were all over us. I’ve never seen them come that hard at anybody,” said Fuentes. The numbers, skill and determination of the insurgents repelled at OP Shal seem quite at odds with President Obama’s suggestion that the Taliban’s momentum has been broken.

Over the past several years, the Lashkar al Zil has conducted similar assaults against US combat outposts in Kunar, Nuristan, Paktia, Paktika, and Khost. US forces have repelled the assaults.

The Taliban still control large areas of Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province, as well as areas in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur. The Pakistani military routinely claims the Taliban have been defeated in these two tribal agencies, but the massed assault launched from Pakistan (among others) shows that such claims are far from the truth.

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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  • gerald says:

    An alliance with Pakistan is like being with a two timing mistress.

  • Mr T says:

    500-200=300 still out there. Hopefully the well trained ones did not return.

  • Neonmeat says:

    They are supposedly well trained and armed but 500 Taliban and Lashkar al Zil troops could not overrun a OP held by around 50 ISAF Troops?
    Does this demonstrate superior capabilities on behalf of ISAF? If this situation was reversed would not 500 ISAF troops be able to take out a OP held by 50 Taliban?
    Good on the soliders who held this position though Afghan and US.

  • Paul D says:

    We are fighting Pakistan in Afghanistan

  • Maverick says:

    We should be using this information as propaganda in the middle east, so recruits will think twice before joining a losing jihad

  • Nic says:

    Sounds like the Battle of Rorke’s Drift with the exception that the Zulu’s were not being funded by the British.

  • JohnM says:

    “Sounds like the Battle of Rorke’s Drift.”
    Funny, that’s exactly what my son (who was the officer in command at OP Shal) told me afterward. “All I could think of was the movie Zulu.” Except Rorke’s Drift only lasted a little over a day, and this thing went on continuously for almost nine.

  • jean says:

    I think this is the same group that has moved around the Nuristan/Kunar area for several years. They morphed from an ETT unit that used local trigger pullers, but ran the comm’s and crew served. Heavy attrition of the local talent at Kamdesh and again at Galakush (western Nuristan)Look at the reports of activty in the DIR area of Pakistan prior to Oct 2011. Probably rehearsing for a shot at Naray, OP Shal was a target of opportunity. Is OP Shal still occupied by the COF?

  • jean says:

    Not Dir. Sorry my map skills were a little off….There was significant activity across the border in Pakistan earlier in the year prior to the battle for OP SHAL. Pakistan Frontier outpost attacked etc. Not all of Pakistan nor their secuirty forces have been co-opted….yet. This mobile unit needs to be dealt a death blow or it could form the nucleus for something bigger in 2013-14.


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