US troops repel suicide assault on base in eastern Afghanistan

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Forward Operating Base Salerno, situated north of Khost City, is a main Coalition hub for operations in southeastern Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the Market Garden Commemorative Committee.

The Taliban launched a coordinated suicide assault on a base in eastern Afghanistan and breached the outer perimeter before being beaten back by US and Afghan forces.

Fourteen Taliban fighters from the assault team were killed while attacking Forward Operating Base Salerno earlier today, Major Efrem Gibson, the Deputy Public Affairs Officer for Regional Command – East and Combined Joint Task Force 1 told The Long War Journal. FOB Salerno is the largest Coalition base in southeastern Afghanistan, and is highly fortified and possesses extensive air and surveillance assets.

“There was a failed insurgent attack against a Coalition base in eastern Afghanistan today,” Gibson said, confirming that FOB Salerno came under attack. “100 percent of all ISAF forces have been accounted for, and there were no ISAF members killed.” Several soldiers “suffered minor wounds from the attack.”

Gibson said that “14 insurgents were killed” and “some insurgents were able to get inside the perimeter, but they were neutralized.” Several were wearing suicide vests, according to an RC-East press release.

According to Pajhwok Afghan News, the attack began as a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into the base’s outer wall at 1 p.m. local time. Taliban fighters then entered the perimeter and fought with US and Afghan forces for one hour before they were defeated.

The Taliban claimed credit for today’s attack on FOB Salerno, in a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the group’s propaganda website. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the forces attacked the airbase from three sides and killed “scores of US invaders” and “shot down two of the enemy’s helicopters.”

The attack was likely carried out by the Haqqani Network, the Taliban subgroup that operates in Khost as well as in neighboring Paktia and Paktika provinces. The Haqqani Network has launched two other major attacks against Salerno and numerous assaults on other bases in the region since 2008.

On Aug. 28, 2010, Haqqani Network fighters launched coordinated attacks against FOB Salerno and FOB Chapman, which is also in Khost province. US and Afghan troops routed the Haqqani Network fighters, killing more than 35, including a commander, during and after the attacks. Several of the fighters were wearing US Army uniforms, and 13 were armed with suicide vests. During raids in the aftermath of the attacks, US forces killed and captured several commanders and fighters.

In August 2008, the Haqqani Network launched suicide assaults against FOB Salerno over the course of two days. The Haqqani Network attempted to breach the perimeter and overrun the airstrip in one of the attacks, but failed.

The Haqqani Network operates primarily in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika, but also has an extensive presence in Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul, Kandahar, and Kunduz. In addition, the network has expanded its operations into the distant Afghan provinces of Badakhshan and Faryab.

The terror group has close links with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) has allowed the network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold of North Waziristan, a tribal agency in Pakistan. The Haqqani Network has also extended its presence into the Pakistani tribal agency of Kurram. The Haqqani Network uses its bases in Pakistan to launch attacks in eastern and central Afghanistan.

For more information on the Haqqani Network, its links to al Qaeda, and ISAF operations targeting its leadership, see LWJ report, US adds Taliban financier, Haqqani Network operative to terror list.

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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11 Comments

  • Gerald says:

    Wanna bet which report the Afghan on the street believes?

  • mike merlo says:

    Another example of a struggling insurgency. I wonder how many personnel were part of the assault team besides the 14 dead the coalition managed to count? The insurgents camped out around Miram Shah Waziristan must be quite disappointed.

  • sports says:

    HaHaHaHa!!! These guys make me lmao. Hahahaah! What a bunch of fools!
    “The Taliban claimed credit for today’s attack on FOB Salerno, in a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the group’s propaganda website. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the forces attacked the airbase from three sides and killed “scores of US invaders” and “shot down two of the enemy’s helicopters.”

  • JimBoMo says:

    Not a lot of detail on the attack so risky making any assessments…but here goes anyways: from the reporting this attack sounds like it differs from prior Haqqini attacks in that the attack seems smaller in scale and objective, fewer resources were involved, less complex and less coordinated assault….but the propaganda machine seems especially eager and rampped up. Curious.
    In the context of the recently thwarted Kabul network attacks, I wonder if this smallish attack is an indication that the Haqqini network’s capabilities and competency has been measurably dimminished.

  • Joe says:

    The Taliban et al know that this stuff is futile, but they do it for propaganda purposes. They have to at least produce the fiction that they are capable of confronting ISAF militarily. Of course they get their clocks cleaned anything they come out from hiding beneath their burqas. They have to do it any way or people only talk about all the innocent people murdered by their terrorist tactics.

  • David says:

    The Taliban regularly distort (read: outright lie) about the results of battles they are involved in for propaganda purposes to the point that they will turn decisive defeats into ‘victories’. Sadly I am sure there are plenty of local nationals with no or limited alternative sources of information who believe the fantasies.
    Perhaps more sadly is that attacks like this actually become effective psychologically in the west when commentators or news reports emphasize the fact there WAS an attack, instead of how resoundingly it was defeated. People see that soldiers are of course still in danger and demand action when realistically all the coalition needs is just more time without interference to continue building GIRoA and waging COIN operations

  • Roger says:

    This is the people we are “negotiating” with. This is a fanatical enemy and they will not negotiate unless forced to. Our strategy and tactics need to reflect such.

  • Marquita Cravens says:

    My first grandson was at this battle. The soldier he stood next to was shot in the head. My grandson and another soldier were able to get him medical help and thus saved his life. We still don’t know many details. I am staunchly opposed to our corrupt leader, its government and its illegal wars. However I support our brave soldiers and am fiercely proud of my boy who is a hero. He will be discharged this summer. But my second grandson will be deployed there this summer. I do not care about the logistics and specifics of this attack. I stand for my soldiers. They are screwing what is mine now. And I am pissed! While some disagree I stand for liberty and the freedom that was ours when I was a child in the fifties. And I stood and still do stand for Ron Paul.

  • wallbangr says:

    For those who wonder why the Taliban keep at these futile attacks against well defended FOBs, keep in mind that overrunning one of them, as unlikely as it is, would score a major propaganda coup for the Taliban. The prospect is too good for the Taliban to resist, especially with the price of cannon fodder running so cheap these days. As demoralizing as getting beaten back like this might seem, it does undermine the statements of the US the brass who assert to the press that the enemy is defeated and has no will to fight. Moreover, unlike our own approach to warfare, the enemy cares little about winning battles because all they need to do to win the war is outlast our civilian leadership’s patience, which is notoriously short-lived. With an infinite pool of volunteers at their disposal, body counts never meant anything to Taliban leadership. And why should they? Especially when you can sell your own after-action report with hyper-inflated American casualties to the illiterate masses back home.
    For those who wonder how it is that these poor SOBs could be suckered into sacrificing themselves for what are ultimately meaningless suicide missions, the answer lies in the madrassa brainwashing in Pakistan. I read an account the other day by a British journalist who interviewed a mid-level Taliban commander in Helmand a few years back. This commander’s cynical view about absorbing casualties — especially those of foreign fighters — was telling. This commander was bragging about how his men had captured some night vision goggles after ambushing a NATO convoy. The price in Taliban casualties was steep with many of the ambushers killed as the NATO troops fought their way through the ambush. When asked if they planned to use the Nods against NATO troops, the Taliban commander laguhed and said something to the effect of, “Are you kidding me, do you know how much these things will fetch on the black market?” (side note: I’m sure the Paks and the Chinese pay very, very well indeed). In other words, the value in lives of the men willing to die in these attacks was worth less than the cash in hand that they could get by selling the devices. Think about that. Even though our night vision technology is the reason we own the night, these guys would rather get the going rate than to even the playing field. I guess our REMF types have got nothing on theirs…
    The conclusion that the journalist drew from this was that this callousness was a result of the cheap commodity that suicidal fighters coming from Pakistan had become. The Taliban commander noted that regular volunteers were always forthcoming from Pakistan, almost to the annoyance of local regulars. They had to be fed and housed and couldn’t simply blend in to the local population. It cost more to teach such a man to fight than it does to expend him in harassing and annoying the enemy. He mentioned that the madrassas were more than willing to send them and that when they were inevitably slain in some harebrained attack they were celebrated back home as heroes. Their families were given honor and a stipend. Then, as “martyrs” the memory of these men served to motivate future cannon fodder to volunteer for jihad. When he realized just what a terrible and ingenius system he had just described to the journalist, the Taliban commander smirked and then shrugged his shoulders.
    So in the cynical view of their commanders, it isn’t really even about winning so much as (a) not losing and (b) to keep on running up against the buzzsaw just to show the enemy that the will is there. In some ways, the part about not losing has always been the correct calculus. It was Afghans, afterall, who coined the saying about, “you may have the watches, but we have the time.” And, indeed, time is never on the side of the occupier, especially with an impatient public back home. But running headlong into the buzzsaw is a whole lot easier to accomplish when you have an entire country next door from which to draw brainwashed young men with a deathwish.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    wallbangr,
    Amen. I wish I wrote that.
    I’d add one thing:
    These attacks also may have little effect against us, but will work against Afghan forces we leave behind. They’re probing for weaknesses we may have, and will exploit them against a less disciplined force. So there is a ‘long game’ aspect to running up against the US buzz saw in the short term. Remote district centers, ANP stations, and maybe even ANA outposts may not fair so well to these attacks.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the forces attacked the airbase from three sides and killed “scores of US invaders” and “shot down two of the enemy’s helicopters.”
    Man, the Taliban really do live in fantasy land with their propoganda. I love how the Taliban and Haqqani’s get thier butts handed to them by the US. and they have to make up this crap just to save face…pathetic….some guerilla army:)

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