Afghanistan Summary

This summary comes from Sami the Finn a.k.a Sami Kovanen, the Senior Information Analyst at Indicium Consulting. Sami has been in Afghanistan for over six years now and is one of the best informed analyst working outside of the ISAF security bubble.  He was kind enough to let me post this update and for those of you who are interested in additional analysis of this type you can reach Sami via the Indcium Consulting website at www.indiciumconsulting.net

On this week numbers of countrywide incidents decreased slightly in every category in comparison to previous reporting period, but in spite of the decrease on this week, the overall trend after the elections is still showing upwards, which is not a promising sign for this winter and expected lull in fighting what usually has started this time of the year. Even if the trend would turn in near future, still the difference between this and last year is drastic and actually been increasing from earlier months of this year (from last year TB / AGE incidents were approx 40% up during the first three months of this year, during the summer incidents were approx 80% higher than on last year and since the election TB / AGE (Taliban / Anti-Government Elements) incidents have been up approx 120%).

If the same trend will continue throughout the winter we will have total of approx 17500 – 18000 TB / AGE initiated incidents on this year, which would be approx 80% higher than last year. And if the current trend would continue throughout the next year we could be witnessing approx 34000 – 36000 TB / AGE initiated incidents during the next year. Although this is unlikely scenario and more likely the increase of attacks will not continue with the current pace, the outlook of next year is grim. This is a concern especially when considering the current situation and overstretched IMF / ANSF (International Military Forces / Afghanistan Security Forces) troops and their capacity. Even if the more conservative estimation of the next year’s attack rate is somewhere at around 30000 incidents, it still will pose a serious challenges for IMF / ANSF troops to manage the overall situation, especially if the TB / AGE elements are able to continue their infiltration into earlier calm areas like what is happening at the moment.

Kinetic operations by International Military and Afghan security forces have continued with high tempo. Militarily these operations have continued been success with significant amount of TB / AGE leaders, facilitators and fighters been killed, but the affect on the field is still unseen in many ways and TB / AGE elements have continued showing extreme capabilities to cope in spite of the significant loses. However, there are some indicators about the lower morale among fighters and especially disruptions of the supply chains, which might have an effect to ground level situation and bring some results in the future.

Total numbers of incidents on this week were 522 incidents (550 on last week); from which 393 were relatively serious incidents (420 on last week) and 482 incidents were related to TB / AGE elements (518 on last week). During the last three weeks there have been total of 1172 TB / AGE incidents in Afghanistan, which is significantly higher than 448 attacks on same weeks last year (162% increase from last year).

Route Clearance Package working outside of Kandahar
An American Route Clearance Package working outside of Kandahar

At Regional level TB / AGE incidents increased significantly in North-eastern Region (after last week’s similar drop) and slightly in Northern and Southern Region. In South-eastern, Eastern, Central Regions incidents decreased noteworthy, although still within the normal weekly fluctuation.

Breakdown of TB / AGE incidents by Regions:

  1. South-eastern Region (140 incidents – 36% of countrywide incidents)
  2. Southern Region (125 incidents – 32%)
  3. Eastern Region (36 incidents – 9%)
  4. Central Region (34 incidents – 9%)
  5. Western Region (21 incidents – 5%)
  6. North-eastern Region (21 incidents – 5%)
  7. Northern Region (16 incidents – 4%)
  8. Central Highlands (0 incidents)

Main types of attacks have remained consistent with earlier weeks; IEDs (163 previous week 164) have remained the numbers one tactic, followed by CPX (complex) attacks (82 previous week 81), SAF (Small Arms Fire) attacks (76 previous week 101) and rocket / mortar attacks (43 previous week 42). Suicide attacks have continued with average of 2.5 attacks per weekly, which is slightly lower than last year’s weekly average of 3 attacks per week. However, due to increasing usage of suicide bombers in complex attacks, the amount of used suicide bombers have continued increasing in Afghanistan.

Harassment / intimidation and direct attacks against civilian population (IEDs, rockets, SAF, assassinations, abductions, etc), or incident in which civilians are affected indirectly have continued at high level. On this week there were at least 98 incidents / attacks initiated by TB / AGE elements in which civilians were targeted directly or affected indirectly. Once again majority of these incidents occurred in Southern and South-eastern Regions.

Fab Lab Surge and ABC News

The Fab Lab team has arrived and is now hard at work.  They are blogging daily and you can monitor their progress here. They’re doing cool stuff like fabricating antenna’s to share our fatpipe with the local schools and NGO’s. They’re  raising money to buy XO Laptops for every 6th grader in the local (Bagrami) school. They’re setting the local kids up with a tee shirt business to fund the Jalalabad FabLab operations and the local kids are beside themselves with opportunity that just landed on their doorstep.

Amy and her roomate Kieth from MIT - the Fab Lab advance party
Amy and her roommate Keith from Harvard – the Fab Lab advance party

We have had to run up to Kabul and back several times to get all the Fab Folk to Jalalabad. The Jalalabad to Kabul road is a vitally important supply route to both the military and the government of Afghanistan. There were several attacks on the road this past summer and there continues to be problems on it now despite the winter weather. We saw several interesting things along the route and the first was the number of French Army troops transiting from Kabul to Surobi.

French troops on the road outside of Kabul
French troops on the road outside of Kabul

Surobi is a large hamlet half way between Kabul and Jalalabad, last August the French suffered a humiliating defeat in the Uzbin valley which is just to the north of Surobi. The town has long been considered to be sympathetic if not supportive of Gulbiddin Hekmatyar and his party Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG.) We see sunburned adult males with high-water trousers, tennis shoes, and black turbans every time we pass through Surobi. They could be Sheppard’s or gold miners but it’s a safe bet their Taliban fighters hitting Surobi in for in-country R&R (rest and recreation).

The French have been serious about establishing a presence in Surobi since their first unfortunate encounter with the Taliban. They are keeping units in the field 24/7; have launched several operations which have netted some prominent local commanders (according to UN incident reporting). It’s good to see our ISAF allies taking the initiative, going on the offensive and clearing out such an important area.

But after you clear an area you have to hold it and it will be interesting to see how (or if) they do that. The operations in Surobi are not impacting the repeated attacks on the Kabul/Jalalabad road – with one exception. We’ve heard from reliable sources they tracked down and killed The Mechanic. It appears to be true too because it’s been months since we’ve seen his signature long range pin point RPG shots nailing tankers. The tankers are still getting nailed but only other portions of the road that allow ambush from rifle and machinegun range.

As noted in previous posts these occur in the Tangi valley area east of Surobi and in portions of Laghman Province below the Tangi. Both the ANP and ANA have posted small units along the road to augment the numerous permanent police posts. As you can see from the pictures below the positions they have set up are weak at best and their patrol routine, which appears to be sitting by the side of the road, is not proving very effective.

Typical ANP deployment on the Jbad - Kabul road
Typical ANP deployment on the Jbad – Kabul road
ANP machinegun crew - they are not dug in and they don't move so they are not accomplishing much
ANA machine gun crew – they are not dug in and they don’t move so they do not really accomplish much

Here is an intel report from one of the PSC’s (the private security companies in Afghanistan do a lot of intel sharing with each other.)

Laghman Province, Qarghayi District, Route 1-area of Tangy

AOG Vehicle Checkpoint 05 January 2009, between 1630-1700 hrs

A doctor who works for a NGO was returning to Jalalabad from Kabul alone in his private car, when his vehicle was forced to stop by a group of armed men. The doctor was then questioned about his work and personal behaviour. He was finally allowed to proceed unharmed when, on seeing the cassette player in the vehicle, the armed men instructed the doctor to play a cassette found in the vehicle. The cassette played was a religious tape and satisfied the requirements of those who had stopped the car. Despite reported increased security force deployments, this is the third reported instance of AOG activity on Route 1 in the Tangy area since 31 Dec 08. All three incidents have occurred in daylight hours and two have been attacks on military vehicles. These incidents should demonstrate to all the risk of travel along Route 1 between Kabul-Jalalabad at any time of day. Any international staff using Route 1 should expect further instances such as that outlined in this report and seek alternative means of travel between Jalalabad-Kabul.

Along with the above report, we have made several trips the past few days along the route. A few ANA vehicles have been pulled off the side of the road about half way back to Kabul, and the soldiers were in a defensive posture behind their vehicles, weapons pointed at the high ground. Most likely some pot shots taken at the ANA as they passed thru.

The Kabul to Jalalabad route is one of the most important in Afghanistan. The effort being expended to secure this route is currently being wasted because the troops are being deployed in poorly sited positions and being tasked to do nothing other than sit there. There is an easy fix and that would be to embed and infantry squad into the Qarghayi District ANP headquarters with a mission style order. It should sound something like this; “Sergeant you’ve got six months to work with these guys and stop any and all attempts to attack this vital route, go down there scout it out, come up with a plan and I’ll see you in five days so you can brief me on your plan. ” Winning the IED battle requires that you kill the IED makers and you can only do that if they are unmasked by the people. To reach the people with the consistency required to gain that level of cooperation requires that you leave the big armored vehicles and spend time (lots of it) among the people. I am pretty sure that if you consult the Pentagon’s counterinsurgency manual you’ll find that it says more less exactly the same thing.

It is always a good sign to see American soldiers getting a handle on the recent attacks
It is always a good sign to see American soldiers getting a handle on the recent attacks along the Jbad to Kabul road

There is hope for those of us who use the Kabul Jbad road frequently and that is the appearance of a small American patrol right in the heart of the Tangy valley visiting the local ANA checkpoint. Inshallah they will be spending some time and effort trying to help the various small unit commanders develop a more aggressive plan to secure the route. We did not encounter any problems on our numerous trips to Kabul and back. What follows is some photo blogging about the Fab Folk we are hosting and some of the things they are up to.

Dan the Reconstruction Man is back with James the Kiwi
Dan the Reconstruction Man is back with James the Kiwi – we have a lot of James’s here (James the Brit,   James the Aussie,   James the Marine, and James the German)- chatting with Dr Dave from the Synergy Strike Force
Kieth, Steve and Carl from the Fab Folk team. Carl is from South Africa, Kieth and Steve are Americans. The Taj manager Mehrab is pulling interpretur duty - he is between Steve and Carl
Keith, Steve and Carl from the Fab Folk team. Carl is from South Africa, Keith and Steve are Americans. The Taj manager Mehrab is pulling interpreter duty – he is between Steve and Carl
Miss Lucy, a former US Navy officer, getting ready to cross the Kabul river from Little Barabad
Miss Lucy, a former US Navy officer, getting ready to cross the Kabul river from Little Barabad
Here is a better shot of Lucy
Here is a better shot of Lucy
Smari and Andres - Fab Folk from Iceland
Smari and Andres – Fab Folk from Iceland
Steve and Keith getting ready to cross the river to Little Barabad
Steve and Keith getting ready to cross the river to Little Barabad
The Fab Folk took a box of stuffed animals with them to Little Barabad. Here is a great shot of the girls watching them cross the river
The Fab Folk took a box of stuffed animals with them to Little Barabad. Here is a great shot of the girls watching them cross the river
We hosted ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz at the Taj yesterday.
We hosted ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz at the Taj yesterday. She interviewed myself and Dr. Dave, the Fab Lab Folk, saw a school built by the La Jolla Rotary Club, and made the river crossing to Little Barabad. She had a big day and shot lots of tape.   More on our day with ABC in the next post.

Here’s a link to Martha’s first news story from her visit to Jalalabad.