Analysis: Coalition and Afghan forces must target Taliban after overrunning bases

A recent Taliban attack on a remote Afghan Uniform Police base highlighted the tactical difficulties that Afghan forces and the Coalition face. On multiple fronts throughout Afghanistan, the Taliban has proven capable of massing in broad daylight, overrunning Afghan outposts, bases, and district centers, often at night, and celebrating their victories, all without fear of being targeted by Afghan and Coalition air forces.

A video released by the Taliban, entitled “Mansoor Goozar,” underscored the Taliban’s ability to take the fight to Afghan forces, often with little to stand in their way. In the video, a large Taliban force traveled in a convoy to an assembly area during daylight. The convoy was clearly identifiable as Taliban; the trucks were flying the Taliban’s white flag and the fighters were well armed.

Once they reached their destination, the fighters stopped to pray. Again, this occurred in broad daylight. The Taliban then assembled for their assault of the Afghan Uniform Police base. During the attack, which began after dark, the Taliban coordinated their actions using radios and set up support by fire position to aid in the assault.

The Taliban force appeared to have easily overrun the Afghan police outpost. After entering the base, the Taliban fighters organized all of the weapons, ammunition, vehicles (including US supplied HUMVEEs and Ford Ranger pickup trucks) to flaunt on social media. The Taliban then pulled out of the base during daylight taking their spoils.

The entire operation – from assault, to filming the war loot, to withdrawal – took about a day. Afghan ground forces did not respond to the attack, nor did Coalition or Afghan air assets target the Taliban before, during, or after the raid, despite the fact that the Taliban convoy moving into and out of the outpost was easily identifiable and moving over desert terrain where civilian casualties would have been highly unlikely.

The results depicted in “Mansoor Goozar” are all too common. FDD’s Long War Journal has documented numerous attacks like this one, and the outcomes are all similar.

If the Coalition and the Afghan government hope to halt the Taliban’s gains and chip away at territory under the jihadist group’s control, attacks such as this one have to be stopped. The Taliban not only replenished its supply of war materials, but also demoralized Afghan forces while gaining massive propaganda footage and delegitimizing the Afghan government.

Ideally, a Taliban convoy assembling and operating in broad daylight would be hit by air power before reaching their target. However, if the Taliban succeeds in overrunning a base or district center, Afghan or Coalition aircraft should consider hitting them as they celebrate victory and raise the Taliban flag, or as they exit the base with their war bounty.

This would require increased communication between Afghan and Coalition forces. It oftentimes seems as if the Taliban, shown in the video using radios, communicate better with each other and are more well prepared than the Afghan forces.

While air strikes may be viewed as defensive or punitive, if the Afghan government wants to halt Taliban gains, the Taliban must be forced to pay a heavy price for massing and striking outposts, bases, and district centers. Hitting Taliban forces as they travel in convoys or after they overrun bases will force its military commanders to reconsider their tactics, which have proven successful in all areas of Afghanistan.

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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18 Comments

  • gar says:

    duh! Ok, I get it, everything has its complexity side of any debate. So, we, those of us, going duh, wonder why they are not being taken out. When our forces were in-country and occupying bases, eyes were on them. Perhaps, the air-cover, via drones, satellites, and responding combat aircraft is not available. When our troops are not vulnerable, we withdraw air assets. The minimal assets the Afghan’s can bring to bear are going to be highly valued and those who pull the trigger to use them are reluctant to risk them? Well, whats the solution? Provide more expensive assets for the Afghans to squander because they have an assured supply? Like bullets, they are more inclined to ‘waste’ ammunition with an unlimited supply. Just saying

  • Ted Hitchcock says:

    Thanks for that. Afghanistan never fails to astound. Were you able to identify the location of the attack?

  • Absolutely the wrong way to go…. There is a window of opportunity to seek peace in Afghanistan as highlighted by Ambassador Mellbin, EU Ambassador and EU Special Representative in Kabul, who stated on Twitter, “We had the Taliban letter. Now we have the US strategic review. Time to get to work! Peace is Possible.” I would say peace is ESSENTIAL The country is in danger of splitting further, increasing ethnic tensions. Ways must be explored to unify the country. There are growing numbers of Afghan army demoralized and defecting. Even former Northern Alliance members are now supportive of Taliban when faced with growing corruption and concerns over the behaviour of the Vice President, an alleged war criminal! Also more allegations are emerging that “35 Women, Children And Elders Killed In US Bombing In Bakht Abad Area Of Shindand District, Herat Province.” The long suffering Afghans need peace!

  • Rob Good says:

    Let’s just be honest about why we are there and from objectives determine goals and means. There is no way to ensure that a friendly government is in control of the entire nation. If we want to have assets in the region to have a vote in what happens the cost is, minimum, 20k troops and support to hold Kabul. Even this minimum requires overland supply routes through Pakistan. At what price? If we add to the mission control of other cities figure one augmented Marine battalion per city. At least the Marines would have real training grounds. But power projection beyond firebases implies costs that increase rapidly as distance travelled to engage goes up.
    To control the entire ring road and cities including Kandahar and Herat will require 100K+ troops and 100 billion $ per year.

  • Joseph says:

    We have thrown in the Towel.
    This is going irreversibly downhill.
    All that seems to be important in America is fighting Trump.

  • Evo says:

    Trump is still dragging feet on sending more troops. All Afghanistan neighbours are hostile to us American presence. Not a good position

  • bob clarke says:

    This seems like a pattern of weakness shown by the last two administrations, and not just in Afgh — we saw/see the same going on in Iraq and Syria — It requires political will-power to whack the moles, which has been lacking. Leadership seems resigned to watching posts get overrun, armories looted, and “victories” celebrated without even sending a couple of fighter a/c to spoil the goings on. Maybe this administration will behave differently, we already see signs like devolving more decision making responsibility to the field, but time is running out.

  • don says:

    Unfortunately, tactics that have proved successful in all areas of Afghanistan in the past sixteen years have not resulted in either a strategic win or even a strategic stalemate, as with the Korean War. The Korean DMZ or border is roughly three hundred kilometers in length and is defensible. The Vietnam DMZ was one hundred kilometers in length and the enemy regularly bypassed it by going around using the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos and Cambodia and the ’73 Paris Peace Treaty was not enforced after withdrawing half a million GIs. Land locked Afghanistan is roughly the size of Texas and its borders or DMZ are equally lengthy and shared with Pakistan, Tajikastan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and China; short of conscripting two million GIs to secure the 5997 kilometer border so the Afghans, 99 percent of which are Muslim, can then sort out their Islamic differences in a humanistic counter insurgency to achieve the right side of history and gay marriage for Omar is a pipe dream, without the seeds.

    • Stephen says:

      The West doesn’t expect Islamic countries to become progressive, but they do want stability. The thing with the Taliban is that it is very fractured right now (look at “The Rejectionists”).

      However, they way I look at it is that the Taliban is a very powerful force in Afghanistan that has a lot of support. If they are willing to moderate slightly and engage in peace talks then there might be a possibility of some type of deal getting done. I just don’t see The Donald as being the type of leader that can do this. Look at this speech on Afghanistan, short on any type of real strategy, generic talk about winning and then some display of his massive insecurity complex in regards to President Obama.

      • Bill Roggio says:

        So was Obama the type of leader to do it? He and the State Department and military preached peace talks for 8 years to no effect. By all accounts he should have been just the guy for the job. Have you considered that perhaps the Taliban have zero interest in a negotiated settlement?

  • Dick Scott says:

    You would think that after almost 17 years of training and supplies that the Afghan army would be more effective. And the Taliban do not look much like an “army”.

    • irebukeu says:

      Well, they are getting much better at power point demonstrations. I will give them credit for that.

    • Stephen says:

      The Taliban are a pretty effective fighting force, they are an insurgent group and a substate organization. They are not going to look like a Western army.

      As for the ANA, they are like many third world militaries. A few elite units and commanders, but overall the people are just there for a paycheck and basically are only present because they have no other way to provide basic survival to their families. Then you get the complexity that is the tribal and ethnic systems in Afghanistan. The Taliban tends to be made up of mainly Pashtuns and controls mainly Pashtun areas.

      But I honestly think that the US government, including much of the military is at a total loss with Trump. There isn’t a functioning White House and Congress seems to be stalled on doing what needs to be done. The US military will be able to provide defense and special operations can be conducted because they are small operations that are planned but there is no policy and coordination in a place like Afghanistan requires competency which we do not have right now.

      • Azad Khan says:

        When the IS came along it took sometime for the west to realise that what was needed was a military solution and not a political one, as it had wrongly assumed with Syria and Libya, now the west has to realise that the Taliban is a political problem, the Taliban have to be convinced to lay down thier Arms like FARC in latin America and join the government.

        • Art Sadin says:

          Why would they? They are winning. It is the losing side that either has to withdraw such as the Brits did from Afghanistan in the 19th Century and the USSR did in the 20th Century? Why do you think the the USA will have a different outcome? The US has not won a real war since WWII. After almost 15 years in V.N. the US finally gave up on its war effort. You can see photos of the US in the early ’60s using napalm, area bombing from B-52s, “advising” the ARVN, meeting with then President Diem who the CIA assassinated when it decided a Catholic could not be leader of “South” Vietnam. This is the country of the Afghani people. The Taliban are barbaric Muslim extremists. I feel bad for the decent people but the US is not going to save the day. The coalition had almost 200,000 troops there at the peak. Failed. Why will another couple of thousand soldiers make a difference now.

          • Azad Khan says:

            After the Soviets withdrew, the Najibullah regime collapsed in 1992 – Afghanistan went into a civil war with the Massud and Haqqani factions mixing it up with the Taliban, and later, Al Qaida – we all know what happened next. today we have an opening to legitimise a Islamic alternative to the IS and AQ , it’s up to us to have the strategic depth needed for this situation- money, force or blood is not relevant at this point.

  • Moose says:

    Excellent analysis, Bill.

  • Ty says:

    Stephen, It was 8 years of Obama in which there was zero competency. Anywhere throughout the ME and in Astan (or Pak) for that matter. The notion that Trump Admin needs to have this issue solved (or broadcasting exact changes to past 8 year failed policies) is silly.

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