Taliban suicide assault team attacks US airbase in Jalalabad

A Taliban suicide assault team attacked Forward Operating Base Fenty, a large airbase in Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, early this morning.

The heavily armed Taliban assault team of an estimated 10 fighters attacked the main entrance at FOB Fenty in the Behsud district just before 6:00 a.m. local time. The attack began as three suicide bombers detonated their cars packed with explosives near the entrance of the base in an effort to breach the perimeter, according to The New York Times.

A suicide assault team wearing US military uniforms and armed with mortars, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and assault rifles then attempted to storm the base but was beaten back by Afghan and Coalition forces backed by attack helicopters.

The fighting at the main gate lasted for nearly two hours before the Taliban were finally defeated. Nine Taliban fighters, three Afghan security guards, and four civilians were killed in the attack, according to The New York Times. TOLONews reported that “three Afghan special forces soldiers” were killed in the attack.

The International Security Assistance Force told The Long War Journal that there were “no ISAF fatalities as a result of the attack,” but would not comment on the number of Coalition forces wounded.

The Taliban claimed credit for today’s attack and said that “tens of American soldiers and agents,” or Afghans, were killed, according to a statement that was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The Taliban routinely exaggerate the number of Coalition and Afghan soldiers killed in their attacks.

The Taliban also claimed that “there were also massive damages to the enemy hideouts inside the airport,” and said that two aircraft were “targeted” and “destroyed,” while another five-man mortar team fired at the base and then safely withdrew.

The Taliban identified a suicide bomber who rammed the gate as “Sadiqullah.” Other Taliban fighters killed were “Muhammad Omar from Nangarhar province, Sarfaraz from Qarabagh district of Ghazni, Oues Khan from Muhammad Agha district of Logar, Jalal from the city of Gardez, the capital of Paktika, and Sadiqullah and Jamsheed from the residents of Nangarhar province.”

The Taliban have attacked Coalition bases in Nangarhar in the past. Most recently, in April, a car bomb was detonated outside of the main gate, but there were no casualties. At the same time, a four-man suicide assault team launched an attack on neighboring FOB Finley-Shields.

In February, a suicide bomber attacked the main gate at Jalalabad Airfield, killing nine people. The base is used by the US to launch drone strikes against al Qaeda, Taliban, and allied targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Taliban continue to attack major Coalition bases

Today’s suicide assault at FOB Fenty is the third such attack against a major Coalition base since the beginning of June. On June 1, a Haqqani Network suicide team, which was backed by al Qaeda, attacked Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province and penetrated security at the base. The attack on FOB Salerno resulted in the deaths of seven civilian contractors and one US soldier inside the base; scores more soldiers were said to have been wounded in the attack. The base PX and a dining facility were leveled in the attack. Salerno is one of the largest Coalition bases in the east, and is also used to launch US drone strikes in Pakistan.

The Taliban later released the Haqqani Network video of the planning and execution of the attack on FOB Fenty. Ayman bin Saeed, a jihadist from Oman who was also known as Abu Abdul Rahman al Oman, was seen in the video and was among those killed during the suicide assault.

The most successful attack against a major base took place on Sept. 14, when the Taliban launched a suicide assault on Camp Bastion in Helmand province. A 15-man Taliban team penetrated the perimeter at the airbase, destroyed six USMC Harriers and damaged two more, and killed the squadron commander and a sergeant. Fourteen of the 15 members of the assault team were killed, while the last was wounded and captured. Camp Bastion is a sprawling military base shared by US Marines and British troops that is located in the middle of the Dashti Margo desert in Helmand province.

The Taliban later released a video clip that showed their fighters preparing for the suicide assault on Camp Bastion. The video included footage of a planning session in front of a whiteboard that has a map of the base; the video also showed two of the fighters delivering their wills. The Mullah Dadullah Front, a Taliban subgroup that closely tied to al Qaeda and is led by a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who serves as the Taliban’s military emir, is thought to have executed the attack.

Attacks on major Coalition facilities are expected to escalate as the US and its allies continue to draw down forces and hand over security to Afghan personnel by 2014. While no final decision has been made on the size of the remaining forces, the Obama administration is expected to approve a residual force estimated at around 10,000 troops. Such a small deployment would allow the US to operate only one or two smaller bases in Afghanistan; Bagram Airbase, Kandahar Airfield, and Camp Bastion, the three largest bases, currently each have tens of thousands of troops operating inside the wire.

The consolidation of troops into a few locations will allow the Taliban to focus their efforts on the small number of bases and increase the frequency of their attacks. This will occur as the US has reduced its combat power and its intelligence gathering capabilities. US forces will also be required to depend more on Afghan forces for their security, even as attacks on Coalition forces by their Afghan allies have spiked.

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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  • Cass says:

    I’m curious, having never been in Afghanistan at a FOB or a major base, why do the Taliban have such easy access? Using Fenty as an example, a suicide bomber blew the gate open. Don’t we have American sentries behind the walls or zig zag concrete barriers like at Bagram if it’s a vehicle watching for these attacks? It seems to me that even a maze of Hesco barriers would stop a vehicle or dampen the blast, and anyone approaching a base/FOB/COP at odd hours would be an automatic shoot on sight target, they obviously mean no good will coming at dawn, alone. How did he just blow himself up without challenge by Americans? Maybe I’m just ignorant about the set ups on these FOB, but Jalalabad hasn’t been a friendly place for quite a while. Is this an ROE issue- don’t react until the Taliban blow up your gate? This, from the report, cost us 2 aircraft, Afghan Commando deaths and unknown injuries presumably including Americans, so they must have gotten deep into Fenty. I just don’t get what’s going on with security on these bases.

  • Charley Reese says:

    Leon Panetta said he views rogue Afghan troops and police turning their guns on allied forces attacks as the “last gasp” of a Taliban insurgency that has not been able to regain lost ground.
    Wise words from the former Director of the CIA and now the SEC DEF.
    Government is inherently incompetent, and no matter what task it is assigned, it will do it in the most expensive and inefficient way possible.
    -Charley Reese

  • Paul D says:

    Payback for targetting Mullah Nazir.
    There is a covert war going on between US and Pakistan.

  • jean says:

    FOB Fenty sits on the edge of JBAD, its location is similar to what you would find at a municipal airport in the states, unlike some of other FOBs, this is right on edge of town. However ECPs are good distance from flight line and where our troops are located, there may also be Afghan civilian presence ( commercial air) on the other side of the flight line. In Kandahar, it is not uncommon to see commercial jets landing, that is embarkation point for the HAJ.
    The outer ECPs are typically manned by Afghan forces, they have a better read on good vs. bad locals. Airfields are tricky to secure given the extensive real estate, it is not uncommon to find airfields and LZ’s outside of the actual FOB. The Taliban does not have a good track record against the bigger FOBs, typically the attacking force is decimated at the gate. There was a complex attack launched against in Bagram in 2010-11, the attackers were flanked by an ODA team and members of the QRF. Hope this helps !

  • MCD says:

    To rebut Cass:
    The attack did not deeply penetrate the FOB. The insurgents were kept a good distance from any vital interior facilities or personnel. But Ma’am, you must understand that these explosions are far more devastating than you could possibly imagine on an unexperienced level. They have a blast radius that exceeds 50 meters and in succession with suicide vests can be extremely devastating. And as for the targeting of random vehicles at even odd hours, that is simply impossible. The hearts and minds are what we are targeting now, it’s not even really supposed to be combat operations at this point. That is the reason for Afghan security forces and ANA’s presence instead of a full on response by our guy’s. This is a very delicate and intricate operation now, no longer do service members shoot then figure out why, we must have a defined target and adhere to strict ROE. Granted, this instance did qualify and was reacted upon as expected.

  • hsubdarb says:

    “Maybe I’m just ignorant about the set ups on these FOB” Yes you are. I spent a year at FOB Fenty. The FOB has all of its supplies brought in and all the waste taken out by local drivers around the clock. The fact that the attack took place at the entrance and not inside the base is a testament to how good the security is.

  • mike merlo says:

    so has the autopsy identified how much heroin the attackers had in their system(s)?

  • Cass says:

    Thanks Jean, your explanation of the area does help. I was unaware that some of the airfields were actually outside the FOBs. I guess I’m surprised we leave the aircraft open to attack, given their cost. But I was floored at the Bastion attack, and now this one, I suppose they’re 2 separate kinds of bases. I’ve seen pictures of Bastion, Bagram and Kandahar, and I don’t understand why we leave these bases so unguarded. It seems like the Afghans would have to be involved in some of these attacks.

  • David says:

    While we’re asking, how did the Taliban get American uniforms? Were they fake? The only real uniforms I have heard the attackers getting access to were ANA and ALP. If they were real American uniforms, that suggests a much more serious level of corruption in OUR ranks than I have ever heard. Does anyone know what is going on, here?

  • My2Cents says:

    I am curious why it takes 2 hours to eliminate 10 attackers, during which it must be assumed the base was shutdown for other purposes?

  • david says:

    The fire fight probably lasted all of 20 minutes, but to have the entire base cleared and every unit report 100% and to account for all damage takes FOREVER.
    Once a TIC (Toops In Contact) is declared, it remains open until the ground force commander declares it closed. There doesn’t necessarily have to be ongoing combat for a TIC to remain open.
    If you Google Earth Jalalabad you will clearly see that the major east/west highway from Kabul to Jalalabad runs adjacent to the airfield. So its very easy to drive car bombs up to the perimeter, as thousands of cars pass there everyday.
    Multiple VBIEDs going off can cause utter ciaos. Being behind concrete barriers shields you from shrapnel but not over pressure.
    Ultimately the attack failed because Afghan and Coalition forces were on it and repelled the attack.

  • jeff says:

    I can well imagine why it took that time to kill the attackers. Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Better to take some time, and ensure you have good grasp on the tactical situation and get all your available assets employed in a meaningful fashion than lose some more kids rushing in willy nilly when you you will kill all the attckers no matter what. Good call on the QRF commander.

  • Johnny says:

    Some solid questions and points here.
    The fact is this: traffic going in\out of a FOB is generally busy at almost all hours. (less at night, obviously but there is still alot of movement.) Several local laborers are constantly entering/leaving base. As previously mentioned, however, important assets and personnel are far from the outer ECPs. At the same time, corruption among the ALP holding down the outer ECPs is not uncommon and probably the biggest enabler of green on blue attacks.
    Also, any airfield or landing zone that is not within the walls of a FOB or base is fully secured prior to any aircraft landing and for the duration of their stay. Why or how the Harriers on Bastion were destroyed is beyond me.
    hsubdarb is absolutely correct in saying “The fact that the attack took place at the entrance and not inside the base is a testament to how good the security is.” Although some base attacks don’t make headlines like this one did, this was a pretty common base/suicide attack conducted by the TB, and was reasonably ineffective if looking at it from a campaign perspective. The only success the TB got from the attack was the media coverage.
    Having said that, we cannot get back the lives that were lost in the attack, and therefore I believe more can be done to prevent (at the least) EFFECTIVENESS of these suicide bombings.

  • bryan says:

    I spent a year on fob fenty. I work at the( ECP) entry control point on fenty. the security there is great. But like someone mentioned all trash and waste are taking off by Local nationals which leads me to believe that soldiers are throwing away old or damaged uniforms. that is 1 way the insurgents are getting their hands on US military.

  • jean says:

    There was a great article posted on line several weeks ago, it was about the Bastion attack and the Marine Counterattack that killed the insurgents. I will try to find the link. There is also some Jihadists footage, of their attack planning floating around some websites. No base is impregnable. Airbases, LZs, and airfields are tricky to secure. The Air Force devotes an entire MOS (specialty) to securing airfields in conflict zones. The other places that I mentioned do not stage aircraft outside the wire, but take extensive security precautions when aircraft are inbound/outbound.
    Some other general comments, the perimeter force will stop the penetration; the QRF will maneuver and destroy the enemy. Moving from Hesco to Hesco trying to figure out who shoot takes time. Especially when the enemy is wearing BDUs or ACU’s. The enemy has complete access to all of our equipment shipped – wait for it, drum role- yes Pakistan. We fly in ammo, food and other war materials, but the majority of the gear is sitting in truck terminals in Pakistan for months. Help yourself.

  • Loren says:

    All I have to say to all of you is that I was involved in that attack. I am a US MP stationed here at FOB Fenty and I was in one of the perimeter towers right next to the ECP. If you werent here you should not talk about this matter. We did everything we could as quickly as we could. This was a very well planned and thought out attack and they knew exactly what time they needed to attack us at. I obviously cannot go into any specifics but after being returned back to Fenty just yesterday and being blown up twice on that morning I do not believe that anyone has a right to question the integrity or the heroism of any US member on this FOB on that morning. This FOB is protected by some of the noblest men and women I have ever had the honor to stand beside and without them I can honestly say I would not be standing here today.

  • Mario says:

    I don’t think uniforms are difficult to acquire. If you can find theme in military surplus stores here in the states, you can find them anywhere.

  • asad says:

    in that attack no one was killed only innocent people were killed my uncle was died


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