The Taliban attack while U.S. talks peace: Kabul pushes back

Earlier this month the Taliban launched what appears to be an insider attack against the 215 Corps of the Afghan Army at Camp Shorabak, in the Helmand province. Camp Shorabak was known as Bastion/Leatherneck when the British and the U.S. Marine Corps were fighting in the Helmand province; it currently hosts the Marine Corps Task Force Southwest. According to an Army spokesman in Kabul, “The separate adjoining U.S. base has its own security perimeter, which never came under serious threat.” Officials said that 25 Afghan soldiers and nine Taliban fighters, including three suicide bombers, were killed during the fighting.

United States Marines at Camp Shorabak in 2017. Photo Credit Andrew Renneisene Getty Images

In the past, when the Taliban attacked an Afghan National Army firm base, they came mounted in captured Afghan Army trucks and wearing Afghan Army uniforms. That is how a group of ten Taliban killed over 250 soldiers at an ANA firm base in Mazar-e Sharif in 2017. The Taliban have proved they can gain access and attack from inside secure compounds, be they Army bases, Governor’s Compounds or provincial National Directorate of Security (NDS) compounds.

The current set up at Bastion/Leatherneck

After 18 years of practice, the Taliban has become proficient at launching raids targeting ANA firm bases. They have had ample opportunity to recover ANA weapons, vehicles, uniforms, radios and ammunition from the battlefield. They also don’t have to worry about recovering their raid forces once they hit an objective. The assault force has no intention of surviving the attack, and many wear suicide vests in hopes of inflicting the largest number of casualties possible.

On the 11th of March, the Taliban managed to surround, cut off, kill or capture an entire ANA infantry company in Badghis province. That is bad news; being a member of the Afghanistan security forces may be the world’s most deadliest job. The Taliban are continuing to press Afghan Security Forces where they can to get more traction in the peace talks.

It is telling how quickly an attack against a base housing American Marines disappeared from the dominate media narrative to be replaced by more talks with the Taliban about withdrawing NATO forces. Even more amazing was a proposal from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to declare victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq and give every veteran who served there a $2,500.00 one time payout.

What’s the purpose behind giving every Vet from those wars $2,500? No idea, but that is what we get from our elected officials these days: sound bites without meaning, policies without purpose. But it sounds good — who doesn’t want a 2500 dollar check showing up in the mail and, it should be noted, the one thing our government excels at is sending checks to people every month.

The United States is proposing to withdraw most of the troops stationed in Afghanistan by the summer while leaving behind a Special Forces-centric mission for five more years to battle ISIS-K, al Qaeda, the Taliban, Taliban affiliated drug cartels, and whoever else pops up. The whoever else includes Uzbeks, Uyghurs and Tajik fundamentalist groups who are already there and not going anywhere else anytime soon.

NATO forces in Afghanistan are well aware of this fact and have, like the Taliban, been trying to gain traction in the peace talks with battlefield pressure. Last week the 75th Ranger Regiment’s First Battalion held an award ceremony for their recent deployment to Afghanistan. During the deployment they took part in 198 combat operations in which 1,900 terrorists were killed or captured. Negotiations ratify strength on the battlefield and our surge in air attacks and SOF raidsis an attempt to influence the peace talks through attrition. That was tried during the Vietnam war too and didn’t work that well back then, and it probably won’t now either.

Afghanistan remains an Islamic Fundamentalist Disney Land where even the most brutal, repressive, unpopular Islamic fighters (like ISIS) can find succor, support and move around freely. They can and do marry into local tribes, some of the more arrogant and/or violent Jihadis demand temporary wives from local villagers. Soon Afghan Taliban will be able to boast that they have driven the Americans out, just like they did the Soviets, and the street cred for them, among the various Islamic movements around the world, will rise accordingly. That reputation will attract more aspiring Jihadis to the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The biggest problem with the peace talks is the government in Kabul is not involved. The Taliban have always insisted that they will talk only to the United States and the will not talk with the Afghanistan government until all foreign troops have left Afghan soil. The Afghans have always complained about this and yesterday they launched a political strike targeting the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

From the Washington Examiner opinion piece Don’t Blame Afghanistan for blowing whistle on Zalamy Khalilzad.

Hamdullah Mohib, national security adviser to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, broke diplomatic china on Thursday when he told a Washington audience:

“Knowing Ambassador Khalilzad’s own history, personal history, he has ambitions in Afghanistan. He has wanted to run for president twice, in 2009 and 2014… The perception in Afghanistan [was that] perhaps all of this talk is to create a caretaker government, of which he will then become the viceroy. We’re only saying this because this is the perception.”

Mr. Mohib went on to speculate about Ambassador Khalilzad’s involvement in derailing any attempt to bring Zahir Shah, the Afghan king ousted in a 1973 coup d’etat, back to lead the reconciliation effort. Khalilzad promoted the candidacy of Hamid Karzai and, as the Ambassador from the United States during the critical years of 2003 – 2005 he got what he wanted. Now Ambassador Khalilzad wants to get NATO out of Afghanistan and the Afghans are clearly feeling they are getting screwed.

I don’t think this attack on the messenger is going to change the message, which is the United States will pull out of Afghanistan at some point in the next 5 years. The desire of the US to leave Afghanistan is being tempered by the experience of declaring victory and leaving Iraq. That is going to slow the process down but the direction of our future policy appears to be leaving sooner rather than latter.

The biggest problems with the current peace plan are promises by the Taliban about not allowing foreign fighters and Islamic terrorist organizations to organize and train in areas they control. Assurances from the Taliban on this topic are meaningless. Nobody knows how many foreign fighters are in Afghanistan now but we can anticipate a lot more will be heading that way once the Americans and their NATO allies pull out.

Badakshan province

Here’s a perfect example: last month U.S. Forces Afghanistan launched a series of heavy bombing runs on several targets in Badakshan province. That is the portion of Afghanistan that borders China and is said to be home to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The ETIM are allegedly Chinese Uyghur Islamic extremists from the far west of China who are focused on attacking the Chinese state. However it turns out the leader of the ETIM, Haji Furqan, is originally from Kazakhstan and may not even be a Uyghur.

Haji Furqan, who wears a Pakol, speaks Dari and Pashto and looks like a white dude but is leading the Uyghurs. Photo from Franz J. Marty

This recent article in the Afghan Analyst Network; Tilting at Windmills: Dubious US claims of targeting Chinese Uyghur militants in Badakhshan. Written Franz J. Marty, (a friend and an excellent Swiss Journalist) and Ted Callahan, the article, based on reporting from Badakshan, indicates there has been no attempts to at cross border incursions into China and little activity outside of the two districts (Warduj and Jurm) the Taliban took years ago.

Franz went on to write a piece for the Jamestown Foundation about Haji Furqan (from which I lifted the picture above) but that is firmly behind the Jamestown Foundation paywall, which is unfortunate because it is worth reading. His work, like a lot of other quality reporting on Afghanistan from independent journalists, is not getting traction in main stream media outlets.

I believe that is because The Narrative is firmly behind getting out of Afghanistan in five years, allowing the Afghans to work things out themselves while International Islamic Terrorist organizations somehow disappear from the country. Reading the recent reporting by Marty and the Afghan Analysis Network leaves one with the distinct impression that they have a better handle on what’s going on in the hinterlands than our own military and intelligence agencies.

It is going to be interesting to watch how things play out in Afghanistan, where there are no easy answers, or palatable options to end a war we never should have started.

The featured image was painted overnight on a security wall in Kabul — the Taliban and Khalizad kissing — the Afghans are not down with the current talk of peace.

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2 years ago

Tim, So much great information here, and a ton of questions. I have glossed through, but need to read some more. Khalizid is of particular interest as the time frame you are referencing from 02-05 is the chapter I am on in the book “Descent into Chaos”, perfect timing. This is my third time to read this book. The Author is Pakistani and is friends with Khalizad so I am curious about this turn of events. Thanks for penning this, will give it more diligence in a couple days, as I will be in a forgotten undeveloped area of FL.… Read more »

2 years ago

Tim, back from vacation, and going through this. Not sure what is going on with Khalizad but Zahir Shah was old, very old at the time folks were pushing him as a new King during the 2001 Grand Loya Jirga, and Karzai did have skin in the game. I know that things soured with Karzai over time but initially 2002 on, he was close to Bush, and we actually had some say with him. The constant backdoor deals with Pakistan though, and then the focus on Iraq made Karzai bitter and suspicious of everything we did in time, so not… Read more »

2 years ago

Baba Tim, I did read and get a lot out of your Afgan articles. I had written quite a long comment, my computer burped and I lost it, and I didn’t have it in me to re-type. I have learned I need to type into my word document first if I get lengthy. Thank you for keeping up on these.

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