Taliban ambush NATO supply column in western Afghanistan

The Taliban claimed credit for an ambush of a NATO supply column in western Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of seven Afghan security guards, two soldiers, and dozens of Taliban fighters.

The attack took place yesterday in the Gulistan district of Farah province. A large, heavily armed Taliban force estimated at between 70 and 80 fighters ambushed a convoy traveling from Herat to a base in Helmand province, according to The New York Times.

Seven Afghan guards from two security companies, Arya Security Company and GFI Security, and two Afghan soldiers were killed in the clash, along with 30 Taliban fighters. Coalition strike aircraft and Afghan police forces also participated in the fighting.

The Taliban claimed credit for the attack in a statement that was released on their propaganda website, Voice of Jihad.

“Nearly 40 puppets [Afghan security forces] including their commander (Muhammad Nabi Khan) were killed, 10 others wounded and 5 enemy vehicles were also shot and destroyed with RPG fire,” the statement said. The Taliban claimed that only “6 Mujahideen were martyred … and 12 were injured whereas 10 motorbikes of Mujahideen were also destroyed.” The Taliban routinely exaggerate the effects of their operations.

A US military officer based in western Afghanistan voiced concern over the ambush, noting that the attack demonstrates that the Taliban can still organize attacks with large numbers of fighters.

“The Taliban are still able to mass forces at select targets in the south and west, even with our increased force presence in the area,” the officer told The Long War Journal. “As we draw down forces here in the southwest and transfer responsibility to the ANSF [Afghan national Security Forces], the threat against our supply lines may increase.”

Farah province is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied terror groups, and is a main transit point for foreign fighters and Iranian aid flowing into Afghanistan. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Bakwah, Balu Barak, Farah, Gulistan, and Pusht-e Rod; or five of Farah’s 11 districts.

Iran’s Qods Force, the special operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has backed al Qaeda and the Taliban’s operations in western Afghanistan, according to the International Security Assistance Force as well as the US government. The Qods Force has tasked the Ansar Corps, a subcommand, with aiding the Taliban and other terror groups in Afghanistan. Based in Mashhad in northeastern Iran, the Ansar Corps operates much like the Ramazan Corps, which supports and directs Shia terror groups in Iraq [see LWJ report, Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury, for more information on the Ansar Corps and Iran’s support for the Taliban].

ISAF targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in the western provinces of Farah, Nimroz, Herat, and Ghor between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal.

In early February 2011, ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban and al Qaeda commanders. When The Long War Journal inquired about the sudden halt in reports on Qods Force-linked commanders in the Afghan west, ISAF claimed it does not discuss issues related to Iran.

“As policy, IJC [ISAF Joint Command] does not discuss Iran,” Lieutenant Commander Katie Kendrick, an ISAF Public Affairs Officer, told The Long War Journal in February 2011, despite the fact that ISAF had indeed mentioned the Qods Force in its press releases and well as in followup inquiries. Further inquiries to ISAF about the sudden change in policy on discussing Iran’s links to terror activities in Afghanistan have gone unanswered.

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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  • Rod says:

    just a heads up, little typo … “Iraq’s Qods Force”… sure you meant Iran’s.
    Great article, ISAF and the ANA are in trouble with TWO neighbors actively sabotaging the efforts of our troops and the media nightmare of the panjwai massacre

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Thanks for the catch, Rod. Ugh, nasty typo. It is fixed.

  • Neonmeat says:

    “A US military officer based in western Afghanistan voiced concern over the ambush, noting that the attack demonstrates that the Taliban can still organize attacks with large numbers of fighters.”
    If they attack with say 70 guys and lose 30 in the battle is it really a concern? Obviously the fact they can carry out such an operation is not good but it seems that strategically this cannot have much effect on things? It seems to me they staged an ambush and lost alot of men and failed to achieve there objective of destroying the convoy?

  • gerald says:

    The Taliban have control of the narrative of the War. You can bet that the Afghan on the street believes the Taliban version of this story.

  • Afghan says:

    Iran and Porkistan are the biggest enemies of Afghanistan, US, NATO and ANSF still the US and world have time go and crack down Porkistan and distroy terrorism there other wise this time they will try another 9/11 and i wouldnt even ask were osama was found

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Neonmeat, We won’t be there forever, we are drawing down quickly in the south & west. And that will include air assets. It would be interesting to know how this would have turned out without US air support. The Taliban have lost countless battles like this in the past, but can still organize such attacks. They don’t have to be good enough to beat us, but good enough to beat what we leave behind.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Bill makes a good point here. But I don’t think they will be good enough to “beat” what we leave behind DEPENDING on what we leave behind and how we fund it. If we leave enough CIA SAD type personell and US Spec Ops forces and fund a robust ANSF then the Taliban will have a very hard time operating at a sufficent level to take back the country in the way they want to. If we screw up and don’t do those things….we face another Iraq type situation.
    Also. We need to start targeting the Iranian Qods force directly in Afghanistan as the SAS and Delta did in Iraq. The Qods force was battered by Delta Force and the British SAS during the Iraq war when they were helping the Shia and they stopped doing it directly. We need to use our tier 1 units to do the same in Afghanistan and show Iran there is a price to pay for messing with the US in Afghanistan!

  • Charu says:

    “They don’t have to be good enough to beat us, but good enough to beat what we leave behind.”
    Brilliant! And the corollary ought to be that we don’t need to have the bulk of our troops there in a defensive position in order to defeat the Taliban, we just need to keep the Taliban from returning to power in Afghanistan. Frustrate them long enough with air power, missiles, drones and the selective use of force, and they will turn on their ISI masters.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    All I can say is we tried the “hands off” or CT or punitive approach from 2002-2009, and what it got us was Taliban control of much of the south & east. The question is can the ANSF hold after we leave, and will the Afghan people back them or pick the Taliban, who have demonstrated it is there to stay.

  • Scythian says:

    We need to use our tier 1 units to do the same in Afghanistan and show Iran there is a price to pay for messing with the US in Afghanistan!

    Considering that the U.S. is already messing with Iran through covert operations, I don’t blame Iran for responding with tit for tat.

  • Eric says:

    ANA will not have enough ANA air assets to provide rapid response air weapons support to attacks of this sort in their areas of control. They rely on ISAF air power in contacts like this. Those air assets will be substantially reduced with the drawdown to the new train-and-assist mission. There is going to be a gap between the removal of ISAF Rapid Response capabilities, and the entry of effective ANA Rapid Response forces with air mobility and air weapons support.
    For awhile, the Taliban will exploit this lack of air power, but it will not allow the Taliban to acheive dominance in any province, nor will they be able to take and hold significant new ground, or maintain a check-point or choke-point presence on the main supply routes. They will be limited to ambush attacks like this one. As the ANA air power becomes more effective, these gains will recede again.
    What is more of a military threat is the coming struggle with Taliban infiltration of ANA units, and targeted killings of ANA and ANPF leaders and their families. The Taliban will push to make the ANA ineffective in its regions of control through these means, and Afghan Intelligence forces are not yet powerful enough or distibuted enough to effectively counter these threats.
    The Taliban will be a fighting force in Af-Pak for the next century. Their durable agenda, as with their ideology and strategy, is not placed under any game-changing pressures by the Afghan or the Pakistani governments, or their armed and intel forces. There is still an easily exploited rural population, opium agribiz, and endemically corrupt cops and politicial institutions. The Taliban will continue to play through sheer brutality, and are free to continue to claim they are benefactors of Islam while they tax and exploit the populace.
    Think of a way to strip them of religious guise, and they will continue as cut-throat raiders, because who cares anyway, it was always about power.
    The first real chance to break the Taliban may have to wait until Karzai is replaced and there is a renewed push against corruption in government and in the police and border control offices. It is hard to be optimistic that any real progress will be made in governance and the support of economic recovery. That is the real stalemate in Afghanistan, not the status of combat operations. As things stand currently, Political authority and military power decides who will experience economic sucess – which is very few people indeed, and not the other way around. When economic success decides who will enjoy political authority and military power, the power base includes enough people to make transparency affordable, and that may prove fatal to the collusion that keeps the Talban’s fiancial and intelligence base protected.
    Economic recovery will most likely precede the defeat of the Taliban, and if the former never happens, the latter probably never will either.

  • Render says:

    “Considering that the U.S. is already messing with Iran through covert operations, I don’t blame Iran for responding with tit for tat.”
    Considering that theocratic Iran declared war on the United States in 1979, has conducted an almost constant proxy war against the US, its interests, and its allies world-wide ever since, and remains the worlds most likely next spot for nuclear proliferation, I do blame Iran.
    Us covert operations against Iran are miniscule in comparison to Iranian support for HizbAllah, the Mahdi Army, al-Qaeda, and the western Afghan Taliban, among others.


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