Taliban overrun Afghan National Army outpost in Kunar

Today an estimated 200 Taliban fighters overran a military outpost manned by what The New York Times called one of the Afghan Army’s “highly regarded” combat units. The Taliban attack took place at a small outpost in the Narai district that was maintained by soldiers from a battalion of the 201st Military Corps, Pajhwok Afghan News reported.

Reports indicate that 12 or 13 Afghan soldiers were killed and two more were captured by the Taliban. Five Taliban fighters were reported killed during the assault. The Taliban claimed the attack, and said 15 Afghan “puppet” soldiers were killed and the outpost was “burned down after it was conquered.”

The New York Times noted that the battalion was one of a few that have been rated to operate independently from ISAF military advisers:

Friday’s attack was on a battalion that was among only a handful of Afghan Army battalions rated by the United States military as independent and able to operate on their own without foreign advisers. It was one of two such battalions that had been deployed without advisers recently in Kunar Province, according to a military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject.

The Third Battalion was assigned to hold the Narai district, a rugged, mountainous area near the Pakistani border, on an important insurgent infiltration route.

Narai district directly borders Bajaur, a Pakistani tribal agency that is riddled with fighters from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistani officials routinely allege that the Taliban harbor in Kunar, while Afghan officials claim the opposite is true and that attacks in Kunar come from fighters based in Bajaur. The reality is that they are both right, as Kunar and Bajaur are infested with both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters, as well as other jihadist groups such as al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba [The Long War Journal has documented numerous raids that targeted and captured or killed top al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders and operatives].

Security in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province has deteriorated since US forces pulled back from isolated combat outposts in the area in 2009 and 2010 as part of a counterinsurgency plan backed by former generals McChrystal and Petraeus. The Taliban have overrun district centers in the two provinces ever since, while areas have fallen under the control of the Taliban, and training camps for al Qaeda have opened. The Long War Journal has warned of this result since 2009, when the US began pulling out of combat outposts after several were nearly overrun by hundreds of fighters from the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring, remote northeastern province of Badakhshan, the Taliban have taken control of at least one district, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has established a presence.

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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19 Comments

  • Alex Shah says:

    so much for the value of American situation-assessments

  • mike merlo says:

    vague yet specific information. A very common dichotomy of ‘reportage’ concerning the ‘fault line’ constituting the tenuous ‘weave’ of the AfPak border

  • dan says:

    the only issue remaining after US combat units are gone from Afghanistan is the over/under bet–will regime survive longer than or less than six months?–anyone who says differently is either delusional or or engaged in propaganda

  • Peter says:

    They should have nuked the whole damned country after 911 and send them all to their great Allah.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    I would expect these massed Taliban attacks against isolated Afghan Army positions to continue with increasing frequency as ISAF troops withdraw. A string of such victories for the Taliban could provide a dangerous moral and psychological boost to their ranks.

  • Rosario says:

    I am guessing several locals participated in this attack, like earlier ones in Wanat and COP Keating. It will be interesting to see if Karzai will let the ANA crack down on Taliban sympathizers in Narai among the local population. Follow the Pashtunwali code, if so to speak – something the US would not be allowed to do. If not, Afghanistan is truly doomed..

  • blert says:

    The key to such opfor gambits must be the lack of drone assets by the ANA.
    The generals pulled back because the outposts were resource pits that didn’t pay off.
    The only high ground that is to be had is by aircraft/ drones.
    For, the terrain rises up and away from the populated villages by way of fault-block folding. This geological process can best be seen from Google Earth. The compression folds extend for hundreds of kilometers around.
    We the going was good, we failed to appreciate how important it was to shape the battlespace — literally. Ten-years ago was the time to set our combat engineers loose upon the mountainside.
    The goal should’ve been to bulldoze/ detonate the critical peaks and ridgelines enough to force the top-most zones into marginal stability. When this happens, soft, dusty, soils are said to be sloped at the ‘angle of repose.’
    (Take playground sand. Pile it up and up. It will gradually slump away until you have a powdery cone. It’s resulting slope is measured as the ‘angle of repose.’
    In nature, trap spiders use inverted cones, pits, to trap ants and whatnot.
    The point being that you can’t climb or build with such conditions — you’re hard put to even stay in place — think sand dunes.)
    Perfection is the enemy of the good. It is only necessary to take away the most proximate, favored, locations.
    It was from such high spots that opfor snipers and harassment fires ruined the military economics of our outposts.
    Until the ANA/ ISAF attains ‘optical dominance’ the opfor will be able to destroy the military economics/ risk-return/ Sitzkrieg supremacy required of any fort.
    BTW, the above tale indicates that the ANA did not have any force multipliers during crunch time. This points to poor opsec or an utter disregard for how the opfor would — and must — attack such an isolated fort.
    ( Claymores? Command detonated mines?)
    Why no keep?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep

  • Slow POKEY says:

    Bad news no doubt. As usual some of your comments are right on, Will Fenwick is correct “”A string of such victories for the Taliban could provide a dangerous moral and psychological boost to their ranks””
    And Rosario is right on as well, “”if Karzai will let the ANA crack down on Taliban sympathizers in Narai”” then they may have a chance. If not I think Afghanistan will be in serious trouble. We will have to wait and see.

  • Josh says:

    Unfortunately this is nothing new for the area. Be it an ISAF outpost (Wanat, OP Bari Alai, Keating)…or a now transferred ANSF outpost they just received from us – probably Bostick if it’s Naray. There’s more than just coincidence that 5 of 6 Medal of Honor recipients earned the award in Kunar Province. There wasn’t much of a surge in the northern half of RC-East – it all went to the south.

  • bb says:

    Peter. I find your comment about using nukes quite disturbing. Sure, killing millions can be a solution… if you want the US to be the bad guy and you do not consider consecuences. Even Hitler and Stalin kept most of the civilians alive.
    How many muslims would become stremist?
    How will it affect US diplomacy against the whole world? US would be worse than North Korea.
    Do really want to start this precedent? Any afghan muslim would be allowd to use ABC weapons against US and it would be considered self defense.
    I am really sorry for the lives of the afhgan soldiers, policemen and civilian that have and will die as I was sorry for the NATO counterparts. They are fighting a hard war. But we need to consider realistic solutions.

  • BobbyD says:

    So 200 Taliban overrunning an isolated Afghan outpost of 12-15 soldiers is a victory for the Taliban? Interesting. I see the weakness of the Taliban on full display.

  • Fred Beloit says:

    So basically a Taliban Company attacked and defeated an Afghan squad defending an immobile position.
    Two lessons: (1) Avoid small immobile defensive positions wherever possible. (2) Don’t develop immobile defensive positions of small size without a larger mobile force nearby in reserve. [N.B. See Benghazi.]

  • MARK PILLOW says:

    The optimist in me hopes this is intel prep for future peace negotiations by the Taliban and that Karzi can muster the enough support that he can afford to Lose Longer than the Taliban can afford to Win these Battles.
    Any Favorable Outcome after the pullout will depend on ability to thoroughly conduct an after action and determine how much of the problem was operational on the part of ANA and how much this is the result of brute force efforts by the Taliban, and must answer the question of How Sustainable are these attacks by the Taliban.
    The pessimist in me says call in the B-52’s.

  • mike merlo says:

    the back story to this ‘action’ is that ANA in spite of overwhelming odds, & without the type of air support that US force’s customarily receive, made a good showing of themselves. The Afghan Forces did not break ranks, maintained their composure received reinforcements from fellow Afghan Forces, repelled the assault & retook the FOB.
    It should also be noted 2 to 4 similar ‘actions’ were taking place in the same general ‘area’ & were successfully repelled with no compromising of the Afhan’s security perimeter. In fairness it should also be noted that in the other ‘actions’ opposition Forces numerical strength was not as high as that which opposed the FOB mentioned in the above ‘report.’

  • Frank Dunn says:

    Will this highly trained battalion retake the outpost? Will US soldiers and aircraft be required in the effort? If the Narai outpost and the area it guards are abandoned, Afghanistan could end like South Vietnam, with US equipped and trained forces ceding territory as outposts, districts and provinces are lost. The trained battalions may end up defending Kabul as the Taliban claims ever more territory in 2013-14. The valiant but doomed efforts of ARVN paratroopers in trying to stop North Vietnamese regulars from entering Saigon in 1973 (?) come to mind.

  • BobbyD says:

    Frank Dunn,
    Afghans took the base back that day and are rebuilding.

  • Scott J says:

    The fact that 200 taliban were able to overrun 15 soldiers does not sound like a great taliban victory to me.
    Obviously, the ANA leadership better learn a lesson from this re: location and strength of forces.
    If this had been 200 taliban overrunning a base of 200 soldiers, then I’d be worried.

  • Dave says:

    Mike: You say the Taliban conducted 2-4 diversionary attacks which successfully forstalled any timely response to prevent their taking their main objective.
    Who estimated 200 Taliban? Well, that many Taliban might help excuse this loss. But location, defensive design, manning level, and night security all surely contributed … and nobody at the next higher level (which provides this estimate) wants to go there.
    The 50-100 enemy in withdrawal couldn’t be found at daylight? Nope, by then they were all tucked in bed at home … 2 clicks up the valley. And assured by Karzai that nobody will knock on their doors.

  • mike merlo says:

    @Dave
    I’m not sure if I’d characterize the other ‘simultaneous’ actions as “diversionary.” I also wouldn’t go so far as to characterize this ‘action’ as loss on the part of the ANA. I think the raid was designed to accomplish a number of objectives one of which was to determine ‘response’ on the part of the ANA & who knows maybe the attackers used the raid as cover to infiltrate ‘whatever’ into Afghanistan
    I think its telling that the raid was not accompanied by artillery fire from the Pakistani side indicating that the Pakistani’s themselves had little to do with at least ‘real time’ participation. It is also indicative of Pakistani Military presence in the area might not exist.
    On a side note it is my understanding that the Battle Of Kamdesh was initiated at first light as opposed to the predawn raid in this incident we’re ‘speaking’ of. Personally I don’t think this raid is that big deal of deal & that the ANA could probably expect a few more of the same throughout the ‘Fighting Season.’

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