Jihadists launch complex assault on Camp Bastion in Helmand

Jihadists launched a complex assault on a major Coalition military base in Helmand today. At least two Coalition soldiers were killed and several aircraft and a hangar were damaged during heavy fighting after the Taliban breached the wire. The attack is similar to other attacks carried out by a constellation of jihadist groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan over the years.

The attack took place early Saturday morning Afghan time at Camp Bastion, a large base in the middle of the desert in Helmand province that, along with the adjoining Camp Leatherneck, houses more than 21,000 US and British military personnel.

An estimated jihadist fighters breached the perimeter and fought their way to the airfield. Two ISAF soldiers, who are reported to be US Marines, were killed during the fighting and several more were wounded, according to Reuters. The International Security Assistance Force issued a press release today announcing that “service members died following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan today,” but did not identify the troops.

ISAF later confirmed the attack and said that the fighters “infiltrated the perimeter” and “attacked International Security Assistance Force personnel and facilities using small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide improvised explosive device vests.”

“The attack, which began shortly after 10 p.m., killed two ISAF service members, wounded several and caused damage to multiple aircraft and structures along the base’s flight line.,” ISAF continued. All of the fighters were killed except one, who was wounded and is in custody.

ISAF said that Camp Bastion “is currently secure” and security forces “cleared the large base of attackers early this morning.”

The attack caused “major damage to buildings, an aircraft hangar, and several military jets,” according to SKY News.

The base is known to host Britain’s Prince Harry, a helicopter pilot who just arrived in country. Just four days ago, a Taliban spokesman said his group would do everything they could to kill or kidnap him while conducting the “Harry operations.”

“We are using all our strength to get rid of him, either by killing or kidnapping,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters on Sept. 10. “We have informed our commanders in Helmand to do whatever they can to eliminate him.”

The Taliban occasionally launch rockets and mortars at Bastion and Leatherneck, but have yet to launch a massed assault there. Bastion is located in the Dasht-i-Margo, or Desert of Death, and is not easily accessible.

The suicide assault is a common tactic in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The attack at Bastion appears to be very similar to other attacks at major Coalition installations in Afghanistan, as well as at Pakistani military bases inside Pakistan. Over the years, the Taliban, operating with the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and a host of smaller foreign jihadist groups, have launched several such attacks in the Afghan east or in Kandahar, but not in Helmand.

Some of the more notable attacks are described below:

The Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup in the east, and al Qaeda launched a complex suicide assault on Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province in June 2012 that resulted in the deaths of two civilian contractors and one US soldier inside the base; scores more soldiers were said to have been wounded in the attack. The suicide blast, which blew a hole in the wall and allowed the fighters to breach the wire, also leveled the base PX and the dining facility. The Taliban later released a Haqqani Network video documenting the attack. An Omani jihadist was one of the members of the assault team.

In May 2010, a joint Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda strike team attacked Bagram Air Base in Parwan province; 16 enemy fighters and a civilian contractor were killed during the fighting. The IMU later released a video saying that “there were Turks, Tajiks, Arabs, Pashtuns, and Afghans” involved in the attack. Bekkay Harrach, a German national who operated along the Afghan-Pakistani border, is thought to have been killed while leading the assault on Bagram.

The Taliban have launched several attacks against Jalalabad Airfield in Nangarhar province in the recent past. The last major attack took place in November 2011, when a six-man suicide assault team was gunned down while attempting to storm the base. In June 2010, a suicide assault team attempted to penetrate security but was repelled during a firefight with US and Afghan security forces manning the perimeter.

The Taliban also claimed credit for two suicide assaults at Kandahar Air Field in May and August 2010.

In Pakistan, jihadist groups, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and the so-called Punjabi Taliban, have launched numerous successful suicide assaults against major Pakistani installations.

In August 2010, the Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for an assault at Kamra Air Base; six Taliban fighters and two Pakistanis were killed during fighting inside the base. One aircraft was destroyed and two others were damaged in the attack. Kamra is thought to be related to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

In May 2011 the Taliban launched an assault on the Pakistani Naval Station Mehran in Karachi. During that assault, the Taliban destroyed two US-made P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes and damaged another, and killed 10 Pakistani troops.

The most brazen attack took place at Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi in October 2009. A suicide assault team stormed the facility and took control of several buildings before being killed. Six Pakistani soldiers, including a brigadier general and a lieutenant colonel, and four terrorists were killed during the siege.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • James says:

    Bill, once again, it’s time to ask the current regime in power [in DC] a most basic and fundamental question:
    Do our military personnel in A-Stan have the manpower and force structure in place to at least be able to defend each other from these kind of attacks?
    I fear as this [so-called] ‘draw-down’ continues, this may get substantially worse.
    What a contrast. In Iraq, after the surge, our casualties plummeted, as well as that of innocent Iraqi civilians.
    Are we seeing an opposite effect in A-Stan?
    That country is a war zone and ought to be treated as such.
    If anyone wants my advice, I’d at least suggest our trainers be allowed to carry a concealed 9mm, in addition to their standard combat issued protective gear at all times over there.

  • Observer says:

    In Iraq casualties plummeted after deals were struck with nationalist/baathist/tribal insurgents (90% of the insurgency), there are no “baathists” in A-stan to negociate with, even though it’s possible I believe to find some understanding with the more nationalist/tribal wing of the insurgency…just my 0.02

  • sundoesntrise says:

    I’ve always wondered what will happen to Bagram and Kandahar Air Field, and large installations around the country once the counter-insurgency experiment is over with, and the majority of the troops leave.
    Bagram and KAF are huge bases; but would turning them into labyrinth fortresses be enough to protect them from the hordes of medieval fighters who would be attacking them every single day?
    I wonder if anybody here can reply to me about this topic. It seems the Americans want to keep Bagram and KAF for some time, but how on Earth are they going to defend them?

  • My2Cents says:

    These attacks appear to be getting bolder and more coordinated. Are we seeing an improvement in the quality of the suicide bombers, which appear to be the source of the majority of the damage?

  • Garrett says:

    Bastion was never in any danger of being overrun. I support maintaining troop levels in Afghanistan, but having another 10,000 soldiers on a 21,000 man base was not going to affect the outcome of the assault either way. At some point your defenses are going to reach saturation and another 10,000 soldiers at the base wont translate to another x amount of guards at a given gate at a given time–the perimeter already has the guard force it reasonably needs.
    The suicide assault force was always going to make initial ‘headway’ due to the element of surprise. As usual the Taliban is trading throwaway humans for the chance at publicity. Even if they had caused no verifiable damage, the jihadi twitter and ‘news’ sites would have lit up with a fabrication/exaggeration of a great success. I’m sure Taliban reports will soon come out that ISAF lost a dozen planes, two generals, 26 special force troopers, and the afghan secretary of the interior to this masterfully conducted attack!
    (which if the Salerno assault video is anything to go by, their tactics probably consisted of 20 guys walking slowly into the base without any idea of what to do once they got past the wall before dieing comically)

  • M3fd2002 says:

    Five destroyed aircraft, three damaded with eighteen sappers!
    Fubar. Fellas, the afghan theater will end badly. We will declare victory, then leave. We gave the taliban the field as soon as we declared an exit. This administration owns this. Look, ive consistently stated that we need to use the northern alliance as our proxy. There is no way we can leave without looking like fools. Much less the 2,000 lives and 6,000 injured weve incurred. Bush intensionally kept our footprint small in afghanistan, while using robust forces in iraq. We had a clear victory in iraq, and o has sqaundered the blood and treasure we expended by walking away. Maliki is no better than saddam. Im almost flabergasted at the level of incompetence of this administrations middle eastern policy.if i were israel, id start building h bombs as fast as physically possible.

  • Bilal says:

    “I’m sure Taliban reports will soon come out that ISAF lost a dozen planes, two generals, 26 special force troopers, and the afghan secretary of the interior to this masterfully conducted attack!”
    Which is not very dissimilar to the US Army claiming to have killed 400-500 insurgents in Operation Anaconda (Shahikot), and being able to produce only about 18 bodies.
    When will we stop living in our imperial hubris and come to realize that the Taliban inflict heavy casualties in their attacks, which are grossly under reported.

  • Maverick says:

    I have yet to see the taliban create any huge casualties.if you want to see huge casualties look back at the war of history

  • sundoesntrise says:

    If you can provide proof of your claims, then more people would be inclined to believe what you say. But since you never do, you should stop complaining that Taliban casualty reports are never taken seriously.
    Facts – that word is your best friend 🙂


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