It appears that Taliban fighters are moving out of the “Southern Triangle” of Nangarhar Province and attempting to interdict the road to Kabul. The latest attack (August 6th) occurred closer to Jalalabad then attacks targeting fuel tankers last summer. The talented RPG gunner we nicknamed “The Mechanic” was working the Tangi valley closer to Surobi last summer shooting up scores of fuel tankers but we are not seeing evidence of the Mechanic this year and have been told French Special Forces whacked him last winter.
The most recent attack happened in broad daylight around 0800 and the ambush team stayed on scene to fight with the ANP/ANA for around an hour; pulling out only after American soldiers arrived on scene. This is a new (not cool) milestone for the Taliban.
I was in Kabul when this ambush went down so Shem Bot and Mullah John went out to have a look and reported the following:
20 or so bad guys moved into a refugee settlement from the ridge line of the Tor Ghar mountains (Black Mountains). They dug hasty fighting positions and whacked a fuel tanker then stayed around to fight with the ANP. The villains kept up a sustained rate of fire for 45 minutes and broke contact when the Americans got SA (situational awareness) and got their 81’s (81mm mortars) in action.
When the Taliban attack a major road it brings traffic to a halt which blocks the road and isolates the fight. Afghans always fill all lanes and road shoulders to push up as close as humanly possible to a road blockage knowing full well that by doing so they will extend the length and time of the blockage. I have seen Afghans jumping a 100 person line at the Dubai airport look mystified when they are forced to go to the back of the line to wait their turn. They just do not like to que up so when the road clears it takes hours to unblock the east/west travel lanes and get moving. An ambush like this will normally make the movement of reinforcements into the fight impossible but the Americans made it through in 45 minutes winning an official Mention in Dispatches from the staff of FRI.
Our question remains how did a squad of Taliban move over the Tor Ghar mountains, dig in and ambush a fuel tanker to draw all the local ANP units into a sustained firefight. Break contact after the Americans show up yet make it back over the mountains without being hit by 300 to 400 rounds of 30mm cannon fire by an Apache, or a Kiowa or maybe even a fast mover (jet)? I think I found the answer to that question when I was down south with the Marines last week. The Marines are shooting rockets – a lot of them and I was chatting up the Operations Officer who told me he has been coordinating with some Geo Space type agency in DC.
It turns out the new generation of the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) goes so high that they have to de-conflict the missile track with satellites and other stuff hanging out in space. When I asked why they shot so many he said the new ROE makes getting clearance to use Tac Air difficult to do in a timely manner. He added that they’ll fix that in due time when they’ve been in theater a bit longer but for now have to tolerate ISAF micromanagement.
It seems that the Taliban understand the ROE has changed enough that they now operate near local villages knowing we will not shoot when they go to ground around civilians. A year ago there would have been so many attack birds stacked over those deadbeats they would have needed an airborne controller to keep them from hitting each other. There is no vegetation or cover in this area of the country so men moving across the countryside are easy prey for attack pilots. But not anymore apparently – drop the rifles and you’re no longer a PID (positive ID) candidate.
Changing the Rules of Engagement (ROE) based on pressure over civilian casualties would be one thing if the civilian casualty statistics were solid but they’re not. For example; a convoy of fuel trucks is attacked by the villains and in that attack 20 PSC guards and 15 tanker drivers are killed. Under current polices (which are not standardized among the UN, military, ANSO or the Afghan Security Forces) they are civilians. Another example; A local land owner hosts a war party of Villains in his Qalat providing them food, shelter, safe haven and weapons storage. Those fighters later attack an Afghan police checkpoint and a predator follows them back to the Qalat allowing it’s controllers to call in fast movers and light the place up. The compound owner, his wife and kids are killed in the ensuing air strike….are they civilians or fighters?
I have been a consistent and harsh critic of the way we have used air strikes which have resulted in the killing of innocent civilians and only innocent civilians because the target was nominated by intel that in-evidently involves a walk-in HumInt asset. The over reliance on technology and “trusted” government officials resulted in dropping ordinance on people we don’t know to be Taliban. Their crime was getting on the wrong side of “trusted government assets” and are then whacked based on intel provided by these them to the spooks. That’s bad tactics and bad tactics rarely provide good opportunists for lasting results. The Captains Journal, using excerpts from Vampire Six and the FRI blog has the best write up on the topic I have seen right here.
In war people die; that’s why it is in everyone’s best interest to get this shit over quickly and to beat the enemy decisively. It’s not important how wars start but how they end is critical. When the enemy is beaten and knows he’s beaten wars end. Until we reach that point we will spend blood, our blood, their blood and the blood of innocents. The longer this is allowed to continue the more we are going to bleed which is why we need to finish it. And the only way to finish it is to kill the Big T Taliban when and where we find them even when there might be innocents around them.