Today the International Security Assistance Force reported that it captured a Taliban leader involved in the Sept. 14 suicide assault on Camp Bastion. The assault killed two US Marines, including a commander of a Harrier squadron [more below], and resulted in the destruction of six US Marine Corps Harrier strike aircraft and three refueling stations, as well as two seriously damaged aircraft.
According to ISAF, the Taliban commander “is suspected to have provided support to the insurgents,” and two other “insurgents” were also detained during the operation:
In Nad ‘Ali district, Helmand province, today, an Afghan and coalition security force arrested one of the Taliban leaders behind Friday’s Camp Bastion attack.
The Taliban leader was successfully taken into custody by the security force following joint efforts by Afghan and coalition forces to track down the Taliban insurgents responsible for the Camp Bastion attack. No civilians were harmed during the operation.
The Taliban leader is suspected to have provided support to the insurgents whose attack killed two ISAF service members and caused damage to multiple aircraft. ISAF forces killed all but one of the attacking insurgents, who was wounded and currently in ISAF custody.
The security force also detained two suspected insurgents as a result of this operation.
As I mentioned the other day, given the sophistication of this operation, I suspect that it was carried out by the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s military arm that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is composed of both foreign and local fighters. The assault team would need local support to stage and execute the attack (and might even include several local fighters familiar with the terrain).
Yesterday, the Department of Defense announced the identity of the two US Marines killed during the assault. Among them was Lieutenant Colonel Christopher K. Raible, who was the commander of Marine Attack Squadron 211, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
It is difficult to argue that this was not one of the jihadists’ most effective assaults on a major Coalition base since the war began. Beyond penetrating one of the most secure installations in Afghanistan, the attackers made it to the airfield, took a Marine Attack Squadron offline by destroying six Harriers and badly damaging two more, and killed the squadron commander.
Estimations of the monetary losses incurred in the attack are unclear, but you can get a ballpark figure. The Harriers are estimated to cost between $20 million to $30 million each. Even if the value has depreciated over the years, there have been investments in upgrades, and the aircraft will need to be replaced. Add in the destruction of the three refueling stations and the hangars, and the cost is significant.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.