Anatomy of a Taliban ambush

In a recently released propaganda video, the Taliban provided extensive footage of an ambush on an Afghan logistics convoy in the eastern province of Wardak. The daylight ambush destroyed multiple Afghan vehicles, and despite the fact that US helicopters were nearby, the Taliban do not appear to have been targeted during the fighting.

The video, which is titled ‘Caravan of Heroes 13’ and was published on August 28, was produced by Manba al Jihad Studio, the media arm of the Haqqani Network, the Taliban subgroup that is closely linked to al Qaeda. Manba al Jihad Studio is “an official media wing of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Commission for Cultural Affairs Audio and Visual Sector,” according to the accompanying statement announcing the release of the video.

The video opens with a lengthy discussion of ambush tactics between two masked Taliban fighters, one who is wearing a black tee-shirt with the words “Quick Attack Force – Special Forces” and a Taliban logo printed on the front.

The video then cuts to footage of an ambush that targeted an Afghan military logistics convoy on a road in Sayyadabad district in Wardak province. The date of the attack was not given, however it appears to have taken place in the late spring or summer months. Sayyadabad was the district where Taliban fighters shot down a US Chinook helicopter in Aug. 2011 and killed 31 US and seven Afghan special operations forces, including several members of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, which is more commonly referred to as SEAL Team 6. FDD’s Long War Journal has assessed Sayyadabad as Taliban-controlled, and the video demonstrates why.

Dozens of Taliban fighters assemble near the village in broad daylight. The village is clearly Taliban controlled, and the group has ambushed military convoys in this very same spot in the past. As the Taliban fighters take up their ambush positions along a length of the road, the remains of what appears to be an oil tanker sits on the shoulder.

Before the ambush begins, the Taliban fighter who was recording the attack captures two US Blackhawk helicopters on video as they are flying over the convoy. The Taliban fighters, who are gathering in the open, are undeterred by the Blackhawks, and launch their ambush shortly afterward. At one point during the fighting, what appears to be a military attack aircraft is captured on film, but it does not open fire on the ambush team.

The Taliban ambush, while not very sophisticated, was effective. The fighters open fire on the convoy with machine guns and assault rifles from multiple positions. It does not appear that IEDs, RPGs, recoilless rifles or other heavy weapons were used to target the convoy. Although the Taliban was firing from locations that included buildings, the fighters did not appear to take advantage of rooftops and instead fired from ground level.

Yet the Taliban was able to successfully destroy multiple vehicles in the attack. First, the fighters hit a fuel tanker, then several military vehicles were hit. As the segment ends, multiple vehicles are ablaze along the a stretch of the road. At the end of the scene, the Taliban fighters casually walk away.

The video highlights a major problem that Afghan and Coalition forces face throughout the country: the Taliban has demonstrated that it can take the fight to Afghan forces with little fear of being targeted by air assets. The Taliban is often able to overrun military bases and district centers, and loiter in the area for nearly a day without taking fire. [See Analysis: Coalition and Afghan forces must target Taliban after overrunning bases.]

Screen shots from the ambush in Wardak

Taliban fighters move to their ambush position:

The wreck of a previously destroyed tanker is seen on the same road the ambush took place:

One of two US Blackhawk helicopters that were flying over the convoy just before the ambush:

Taliban fighters survey the road:

A tanker is hit:

An Afghan military vehicle is hit:

Two vehicles are burning:


Taliban fighters engage the convoy from a field:

Multiple vehicles are aflame:

Taliban fighters walk away from the ambush:

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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20 Comments

  • Glenn says:

    Well, incidents like this should certainly help with Afghan recruiting. Any speculation as to why the Blackhawks were uninterested? Is this part of the corruption — Taliban, with poppy money, pays someone high up to veto Coalition engagement? It frustrates me considerably that we defend this narco-terrorist state, and the patriots still die like this.

    • DB1 says:

      As far as I can tell, Glenn, those helicopters aren’t equipped to intervene nor are they required. They look like transport helos not sufficient enough to assist and engage in a protracted ambush. Plus, the guys on the ground seem to be afghan (US trained ana/anp/alp) protected contractors therefor the US military is of no obligation to interject. Although the taliban does make money from their drug trade, I feel your that statement that the coalition somehow vetos a response due to corruption is largely unfounded, based on your comment it seems your understanding is limited.

  • Truthful James says:

    Name somebody with a strong mind who can possibly predict that the Afghan War will end with a peaceful Republic whether under American auspices or not. In our own nation building we had the common interests of thirteen fractious states who had a common interest in establishing a Republic to face down the external challenges from England, France and Spain. bin Laden and his headquarters left long ago. The Taliban is fully supported by Islamabad. Before bin Laden, the Russian invaders left the country and its communist ruler to the tender mercies of the Taliban — the latter soon died. Afghanistan is a a collection of tribes. The Pashtun are supported by Pakistan and that includes the Taliban. The Northern Alliance has its own territory.

    The Taliban are not Communists. The ISI money comes from Islamabad which gets it from Riyadh. Who are we kidding?

    • Paul Cock says:

      No, Truthfull James, Najibulah was a moderate man, not a radical communist. He was not killed soon after the Russians left, he stayed for two years. Najibullah was looking for a compromise, but the CIA kept supporting the worst of the Mujahedin, the most fundamentalist branch that is. Why? Because those dumb asses in the CAI did not see the danger of Islam, they only saw Islam as an enemy of communism and later as an enemy of Russia. What we see now is blow back in the face of the USA, for their reckless stupidity. And the CIA kept making the same mistakes in Yougoslavia, Tsjetchnia and Syria. Will they ever learn? Compromise with Islamic fundamentalism is not going to work.

    • Rob says:

      Not really. The only ethnic group that divides itself by tribes are the Pashtuns. They’re the majority, yes, but this notion that Afghanistan is a very tribalistic place is just wrong. The Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Turkmen aren’t tribal, because tribes don’t socially exist within those ethnic groups. It’s just the Pashtuns. There were Pashtun tribes that vehemently fought (and still do) against the Taliban and it’s allies.

    • Azad Khan says:

      luckily the Saudis have financial and political problems and there is only so much money to be made trafficking and smuggling by the ISI so jihadists are facing a crunch too, improved and tighter homeland security across the west and diligent work by intelligence to deny publicity stunts will invariably grind down the jihadists ability to raise money and deploy the AQ will be limited to Africa in not so far future.

    • Arjuna says:

      I agree w you 100%. Unless the Taliban problem is tackled via its Pakistani and Saudi sponsors, by cutting off their US weapons and $upport, we are just doing the old Jerry Jeff thing: pissing in the wind.

  • Avid Reader says:

    That screencap of the helicopter clearly shows a Blackhawk, not an Apache

  • Moose says:

    Afghans can be bought. It’s the only way to control them. Start putting bounties on the heads of local commanders. As far as I know, this strategy has only been used for high-value targets like Bin Ladin or Mullah Omar, and not at the local level. The Taliban commanders on the ground have pissed off at least a few locals who would happily rat them out for the right amount of money.

  • Gary Franklin Collins says:

    I spent four years in Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2015. This is not a fight we should have gotten involved with and it is not a fight we can win. The Taliban are deplorable. Nevertheless, they are indigenous and, fortunately for the West, their objectives are national in nature. Yes, O.B. Laden used Afghanistan to attack America in 2001 but it appears he did so without the consent or knowledge of Taliban leadership. GW Bush should have taken up the Taliban on their offer in 2001 to try O.B. Laden in a sharia court; what did we have to lose? I hope Afghans can one day enjoy peace, freedom and their own form of democracy. It will never come about through Western intervention. Leave Afghanistan to sort itself out and engage the Afghans in developing their farms, hospitals and schools to the extent possible. Do not, under any circumstances, entertain the idea that the West can bring our vision of democracy and human rights to the country. One Afghan colleague told me, we can take one step forward or fifty back. Which one do you want?

  • Mammadeshun says:

    In some instances the US forces have refrained from intervening based on the fear that the whole ambush could have been staged to drag them into a second ambush on their forces. Non-intervention from the helicopters in this case may have been for a similar reason.

  • Michael Reinhard says:

    I took something different from the videos. It seems to me that the reason the Taliban are able to operate with such impunity is that the rules of engagement prevent the air elements from taking action.

    “the Taliban has demonstrated that it can take the fight to Afghan forces with little fear of being targeted by air assets. The Taliban is often able to overrun military bases and district centers, and loiter in the area for nearly a day without taking fire.”

    That seems to be a story of pilots not being allowed to fire rather than one of ‘tribal divisions’.

    When I was in Kabul the stories I heard from were of coalition forces holding off on hitting the Taliban either because they could not be absolutely certain that the people they were shooting at were individually responsible or that their might be collateral damage. The most common comment I heard from university students and academics was they they thought we didn’t want to win the war, that we wanted it to go on so we would have an excuse to stay there. I heard almost no support for the Taliban. There was, indeed, a lot of mistrust for people from other ethnic groups in Kabul but they were all united as far as despising the Taliban.

  • Doug Macdonald says:

    Well, let’s not forget that this is a propaganda film. The ambush looks real enough, but the helicopters, and the airplane at the end, could have been filmed on another day, or at another location, and then edited in. Same for the casual exit of the insurgents near the end of the film. We don’t know where these were taken. In one of the long shots the smoke from the ambush appears white, in the close-ups it is all black.

    Just saying we should be cautious in drawing conclusions from highly edited propaganda films.

  • Gsrmn says:

    Black hawk helicopters could of been flown by non usa military, no time stamps in video, the black hawks could of flown over hrs befor the convoy passed. Black hawks are not forward combat helicopters some have gunners for little self defense. Video only fools the dumb

  • Kilroyishere says:

    Seems to me the rules of engagement were written by a Taliban, Islamic extremist sympathizer, who may have even made nuclear deals with Iran. Just speculation of course.

  • Tom says:

    Hey Bill,

    The attack aircraft is probably an F/A-18 Super Hornet. You can tell by the two large fins on the back of the plane. Although the F-35 and F-22 both have dual fins too, the former has never been deployed under CENTCOM and the latter hasn’t been used in Afghanistan to the best of my knowledge (it made its combat debut in Syria c. 2014).

    Regards,

    Tom

    Also, I don’t think I would be super deterred by Blackhawks, either. The only Blackhawks that have hard-hitting armament systems like the M230 are the ones employed by 160th SOAR. The rest of the fleet has smaller systems like the M134 for defensive purposes.

  • Carol Grayson says:

    Perhaps it was around the time when US aerial fire hit “Afghan Security Forces” killing several police (July, the Gereshk district of Helmand Province, according to New York Times). Could be they were being extra cautious so as not to produce more negative news?

    Anyway it seems despite recent announcement of increase in forces, both Ghani, some of his allies and Taliban are producing statements suggesting routes to peace…. so lets see what happens in Washington and UN in next couple of weeks!

  • Baz says:

    Maybe the choppers did fire to attack, but ТаliЬаn just simply edited it out of their video so that you don’t see it

  • Richard Loewe says:

    this is a bizarre story and I am eagerly awaiting a follow up. What exactly is the point of having two unarmed choppers fly point for a convoy? The person who planned that or the person who set the strategy corset in which such useless missions can happen need to explain themselves.

    Trump and Mattis must be fuming. I hope. They (represented by the Blackhawks) are being destroyed by half-wits that stand by with their hands at backs like they watch their kids play football. And then walk home openly having a good laugh.

  • Ben S says:

    It is interesting to me that they are not making much if any, attempt to hide their faces in this video. I might not be up to speed with how the Taliban operate, but I know that groups like AS usually blur out their faces. My question is this the Taliban not caring to hide their faces, or not needing to, both things I think would be good indicators of the threat against them.

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