Happy al-Faath Day

Editors Note:   A hat tip with many many thanks goes out to Tim of Panjwayi, the country manager of Team Canada for providing the detailed report and pictures from the 5 May attack in Zaranj.

The fighting season is rapidly ramping up to make this the bloodiest yet, which makes it the perfect time for President Karzai to go to Washington for a little face time with the Commander in Chief.   What is to be accomplished during this meeting is easy to predict: Not one damn thing.     This article in the Washington Post explains why – here is a quote from it: “‘We don’t have a plan yet,’ worries the senior military official.”     With the operation to clear Kandahar on hold, that’s a huge problem.   I’m worried too.

As often happens when the good President leaves to conduct important affairs of state the Taliban have declared that they will ramp up a major offensive targeting ISAF, the Afghan government and all internationals.   This offensive even has a name; al Faath (victory) and it is scheduled to start tomorrow.   Threats of this nature have come often in the past but this one is being taken more seriously by Afghan security forces and internationals working outside the wire.   The military, as far as we can tell, ignores these kinds of things completely which is a shame because they could mount a one day surge which would impress the hell out of everybody earning them huge social capital.   They could do that, but can’t.   Let me explain why using the recent   Taliban attack in the previously peaceful city of Zaranj, which is the Capital of Nimroz Province.   Then describe how easy it could be to preempt this kind of activity using aggressive patrolling tactics.

Nimroz province is one of the more dangerous provinces (statisticaly) in the country.  Zarang is the capitol and it is way down in the southwest corner on the Iranian border.  Nobody really knows what is going on there because nobody is there - no USAID, no military, no Kabul government repersentitives...nobody.  But The Boss signed us up to do cash for work projects there and being the kind of guy he is he went down with Team Canada (I got shut out on this trip) to see what was what.
Nimroz province is one of the more dangerous provinces (statistically) in the country. Zarang is the capital and it is way down in the southwest corner on the Iranian border.

On the 5th of May at approximately 0930 a squad of nine Taliban fighters in two Toyota Corollas attacked the Nimroz Provincial Council office and the Governors compound.   They attacked sequentially in what appear to be a well planned raid.   All nine attackers were dressed in ANA uniforms with AK47 assault rifles and at least one grenade. All nine were wearing suicide vests.

Zarangj Gov attack
The attack started north of the governors compound and rolled south where it was stopped before the governors compound was breached

The raid force had failed to recently confirm their target reconnaissance because they were forced to stop and dismount well short of their breach points due to roads into the objective being cut for the installation of drainage pipes to the north and a counter-mobility barrier blocking their ingress from the south.

The first group of attackers dismounted here due to road construction and assaulted through the gate.  The first attacker detonated his vest here killing the ABP guard at this gate.
The first group of attackers dismounted here due to road construction and assaulted through the gate. The first attacker detonated his vest here killing the ANP guard at this gate.

Five attackers from this first vehicle moved past this gate and stopped outside the entrance gate of the Provincial Council office where they engaged ANP (Afghan National Police) troops who were responding from the Governors compound to the south.   There were also ANP units arriving to the north of the attackers on the street pictured above.

Breach point into the Provincal Council compound
Breach point into the Provincial Council compound

A second attacker detonated his suicide vest to breach the door into the Provincial Council’s office complex.   The remaining three attackers rushed inside to fire into the council offices from the outer windows.

This is the window outside the main Provincial Counsel meeting room through which the three attackers poured in AK47 fire which mortally wounded a female member of the counsel
This is the window outside the main Provincial Council meeting room through which the three attackers poured in AK47 fire which mortally wounded a female council member
Looking into the council office from the attackers perspective at the window
Looking into the council office from the attackers perspective at the window - it looks like they did not fire too many rounds into this room, but look at all the bullet strikes outside the window frame in the picture above - as I have said before these guys really suck at gun fighting. Could you imagine standing right where this picture was taken and putting more rounds into the wall you are standing behind than into the room?

The attackers started running around the building firing at the Provincial Council members through the outside windows.   The members were running around inside the building looking for a place to hide.   At least one ANP guard was inside the building returning fire and many of the council members also started to return fire with their sidearms.   One of the attackers was killed during this portion of the attack.   The attackers then threw in a hand grenade (which detonated under a stairwell sending the frag back at the attackers) and turned their attention to the Governors compound.

Throwing a grenade into a doorway where it lodges under a stairwell throwing all the frag back inot your face is just a step above shooting yourself in the stupidity chain.  These guys were Darwin award candidated for sure.
Throwing a grenade into a doorway where it lodges under a stairwell which forces the blast and frag back at you is just a step above shooting yourself in the stupidity chain. These guys were Darwin Award candidates for sure.

Now things start to get really crazy.   If you look at the google map above, you can see where the second corolla pulled up and emptied out four more fighters.   This car was not found after the fight so the driver probably chickened out – it is unusual for the Taliban to use a driver for transport only in these assaults.   The second vehicle was stopped well short of the Governors compound by a recently installed road block.   By the time both assault teams had linked up there was organized effective fire coming at them from the Governors compound to the south and ANP troops arriving north of the attackers.

Looking south towards the Governors compound from the attackers perspective.  At this point they could not move down the street due to heavy fire from Afghan security forces.
Looking south towards the Governors compound from the attackers perspective. At this point they could not move down the street due to heavy fire from Afghan security forces.

Their second vehicle – which was probably rigged as a vehicle born IED was unable to make it into the fight and retreated, so the raiding party was stuck and had to come up with a way to close the final 300 meters.   So they did what all suicide vest wearing raiding parties do – they started breaching the walls of compounds adjacent to the Governors place by throwing themselves against the wall and detonating.

The raid goes super kineteic - the four new attackers linked up with the two surviving attackers from the first crew and started towards the governors office.  Oneof the bomber breached the wall by detonating his vest - the damage is being repaired by the owner less than 24 hours later
The raid goes super kinetic - the four new attackers linked up with the two surviving attackers from the first crew and started towards the governors office. One of the bombers breached the wall by detonating his vest - the damage is being repaired by the owner less than 24 hours later

As the raid force breached each wall they moved into the compounds looking for a way to the Governors office.   They did not fire at the compound owners or their families.   Having breached their way into the compound above they then used another attacker to blow himself up at the doorway of an adjacent compound.

The second breach point - the attackers moved through this door to get into the compound next door to the governors place
The second breach point - the attackers moved through this door to get into the compound next door to the governors place. Repairs are underway - this photo was taken the day after the attack.

At this point the assault squad is down to four men and they had a mighty big wall to get through.   Obviously these guys were not disposed to alternative courses of action – I guess when you strap on a suicide vest everything around you looks like a target.   So hey diddle diddle straight up the middle they went.

Number one man go - the first attempt to breach the Governors compound
Number one man go! The first attempt to breach the Governors compound - not too effective
Number two man go!  The second failed attempt to break into the Gov's place
Number two man go! The second attempt to get through this rather stout wall failed too
Number 3 man....oh wait he's dead..so I guess I'll just sit down here and BOOM
Number 3 man....oh wait he's dead...so I guess I'll just sit down here and.... BOOM!

The attackers never made it into the governors compound and the fighting ended with the suicide of the last surviving attacker. This attack was typical for Taliban operations.   The planning seemed to be good as was the reconnaissance but the failure to confirm that reconnaissance after the raid was green lighted meant this mission was compromised from the start.   The execution of the plan was typically amateurish with poor gun handling, poor grenade handling, poor marksmanship and no branch or squeal planning being the defining characteristics.   As soon as the attackers found themselves cornered or stymied by an unanticipated obstacle they blew themselves up.

dead_attacker
One of the attackers who was killed before he could activate his vest. The vest was removed by NDS - Afghans come in all shapes, colors and sizes but this knucklehead doesn't look too Afghan to me.

The attackers were reported to be younger males, not Afghan in appearance, with red faces and Pakistani-style shoes.   Some witnesses believed them to be Pakistani, others Iranian.   Everyone we talked to agreed that they weren’t locals.   They were all wearing ANA uniforms and all nine had Suicide -IED vests, AK47s and at least one had a grenade.

There are several theories amongst the more credible local nationals (LNs) who are familiar with all the facts of the attack.   One theory is that this was an attack staged by Quetta Shura Taliban.     In 2008 and early 2009,   there had been frequent S-IED attacks in Zaranj, approx one per month according to residents, until NDS conducted two big raids in March 2009, after which these attacks dropped to zero.     The Nimroz Governor had been recently reporting the Zaranj City had been free from AGE/INS attacks for over one year.   Some of the LNs who believe that this was a QST attack also believe that it was very ineffective on purpose.   They believe that this wasn’t a poorly planned and executed attack, but simply a message sent to citizens and officials of Nimroz that they can attack whenever and wherever they please and they got off lucky this time.

Another theory held by many LNs, including most of the Provincial Council members and perhaps even the NDS, was that this attack was perpetrated by Iranian elements trying to destabilize the area and pass the blame on to the Taliban.   There has been much recent confrontation along the Iranian/Afghan border in the vicinity of Zaranj, including Iranian border guards shooting Afghan civilians along the border at the rate of one per day, which goes unreported by GOA or media according to the LNs.   Also, there is a war of words underway regarding water rights and a hydro-electric project.   Several prominent LNs report that Iranian Border Guards didn’t let any traffic pass from Iran into Zaranj the day of the attack and the day before, which is highly suspicious to them.   Also, it is believed that the Iranians have operatives inside Zaranj, working under the guise of the local Red Crescent and Khomeini Foundation organizations.   The Governor of Nimroz has recently changed his public rhetoric from pro-Iranian to anti-Iranian.   Also, approximately 2 weeks before the attack, members of the Provincial Council took local media to disputed areas of the border which have been occupied by Iran, where they are said to be stealing Afghan water.   The Iranian Border Police sent a squad to dispel the group of politicians and media so the Nimroz Governor sent a platoon of ANA to intervene.

One thing is certain and that is it is easy – really easy to preempt these kinds of attacks with the proper deployment of ISAF troops.   Everyone of these attacks occurs during the morning hours.   Everyone of them involve bad guys wearing ANA or ANP uniforms and suicide vests being delivered to the objective by small private cars.   All it would take to stop these kinds of attacks would be deploying joint military/ANP patrols in the neighborhoods but here is the catch – MRAPS won’t work.   They are too big, the people inside cannot see, smell, hear, or feel anything outside of the massive iron MRAP.   Plus the damn things would tear out the electrical wires in 97% of the suburban streets in Afghanistan.   Preempting Taliban attacks in the cities and larger towns means Americans and Afghans riding around in the LTV’s (light tactical vehicle to the military; pick up truck to the rest of us) where they can see, hear and observe the local environment while applying the rule of opposites. This they can do in theory but not in practice because of “force protection” rules laid out from on high.

Zaranj is an important city which currently has no ISAF or Afghan Army units stationed near the city.   One rifle company of American infantry could instantly make this city and its people safe and secure.   All they need do is partner up with the local ANP and ride around the town looking for something or someone out of place.   The Taliban are not tactically proficient at anything they try to do.   Their target surveillance methods are about as effective as their small unit raids – which is to say not effective and therefore easy to spot.   Their raid forces always look the same, men in uniforms with AK’s and bulky suicide vests packed into small passenger cars.   How hard would it be to spot that?   Five guys crammed into a Toyota are nothing more than helpless targets unless they have the time to deploy from their vehicles.   Given two marine riflemen, four ANP troopers and a half dozen pissed off but disciplined oysters on the half shell you could whack groups like this day in and day out for the next nine years.

So tomorrow is al Faath day which may or may not bring some more of these attacks.   The local people in the east do not seem worried nor are we, but you know what would really make an impression?   To see the US Army out in force tomorrow morning manning checkpoints with the ANP and driving around the neighborhoods looking for things which are exactly opposite to what they expect to see.   If we are supposedly focused on the population then the population should actually see us being focused on them and being proactive during times when the villains are up to mischief.   Flooding Jalalabad with a few hundred of the 7 to 8 thousand troops in residence outside the city would do wonders for the morale of the locals and the morale of our troops.   But the chances of that happening are zero.   You can talk “COIN” and “population centric” all you want and it will make no difference to anyone here.   Actions always speak louder than words.

16 Replies to “Happy al-Faath Day”

  1. In the “have and have not” pictures you presented, I sense a community that knows what is happening, yet only looks forward to tomorrow’s daily job offers, wherein one might repair a wall, or dig a ditch for pipe, or replace a window, maybe wash away blood on the ground while retrieving body parts missed.

    They smile for your camera, hide their women, and wander about knowing that outside of one’s religion, hope exists in those statements only foreigners seem to offer.

    Pack up you stuff and come home: The game has been over for some time, if ever it could have started with these so called Commanders in Chief we’ve recently elected!

    Look at those walls; recall our people who claim to think “outside the box” in their speeches…real humor!

  2. Yes RJ the blame is all due to having sent those extra troops. Things were going swell before Obama made that blunder.

    1. No John, the majority of the blame for that blunder lies with the Democrat controlled Congress starting in 2006. Obama just doubled down on the already bad.

      As a land locked nation with an obvious lack of viable logistical routes the force size for Afghanistan should never have gone beyond twenty to thirty thousand troops. Or the maximum that can be supported entirely by air using only the Air Forces transport fleet.

      Some of the post 2006 to 2008 blame is W’s, the buck does stop there. And some of the blame lies with the enemy, who after all, does have a say in the matter. That’s why they’re called the enemy…

      ===

      Tim: I’ve seen those kind of small unit tactics (and bad shooting) before and I’ve never been in uniform or in real combat (DC drug wars don’t count). They appear to be “learning” their tactics from First Person Shooter video games. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing? There are no re-spawns in real life…

      THREE
      LIVES
      QUARTER,
      R

  3. Jalalabad has a US brigade HQ, a US bn, at least one ANA bn and a US PRT yet the Taliban seem able to plant bombs in the city. Kandahar has 20,000 odd NATO employees yet the city is close to being under the control of the Taliban.

    NATO troops do not bring security except to the ground they are standing on.

    Please don’t give anyone ideas about putting US troops in Zaranj. They aren’t needed and the last thing we need is more EOF incidents.

  4. 1. Principles of COIN seem damnably hard to implement.
    2. My association with them was: “Oh, that’s what we did three years ago. This is what we’re doing now….”
    3. The military leadership is cautious. Don’t want to field troops without goggles, body armor, protected vehicles.
    4. Casualties don’t play well with their superiors, inside the beltway or with the US public at large.
    5. We need a uniformed, trained, flagged opponent -just like ourselves -but inferior and able to be defeated with minimal losses.
    6. Adding to the difficulty, Congress and high level Department of Defense leadership want demonstrable progress.
    7. The thousand tiny victories and maintenance of stability are useless politically to #6.
    8. Think COIN ops are not compatible with a 2011 departure.
    9. People who think that departure is contingent on the situation in AF are naive.
    10. We have a long tradition of declaring victory, packing our trash and leaving -regardless of the situation on the ground.
    11. By the time people got around to calling Vietnam a defeat, all the principals were dead or approaching senescence. The Pols may not know how to manage a war, but they are aware of that fact.
    12. Still think we should play to our real strength and buy the SOB’s off.
    V/R JWest

  5. When our commander in chief, the great lawyer/warrior/sophist Obama-Mao places up for confirmation a woman (perhaps just a simple lesbian, nothing more per S. Freud’s perspectives) whose greatest claim to fame is the “denial” of ROTC at Harvard; don’t we kinda get (somewhat), after the “tail wags the dog” feelings; that those in “our” military uniforms could just possibly be “simple fleas” on this “big dog” (the evil US), to be shoved around as necessary to get this animal to do what that “wonderfully so smart and very cerebral” former community organizer demands to be done?

    Are we to lament, as presented in your pictures, the obvious “stupidity” of those simple minded, religious freaks within Islam, those Muslims who choose to blow themselves up for Allah…or do we take the time to notice “our expenditures and mounting debts” when transversing through every American airport prior to removing our shoes and submitting to full body scans?

    Who is really stupid here? Those dumb looking Afghans standing around waiting to get hired to repair the bomb damage for those few rich people or government, as seen in your pictures for this posting…?

    Are you so sure?

    This is really what’s important: Diversity, gays, no profiling…and you want to be an American military warrior defending these people who presently lead us?

    As Holder ponders where to bring to trial the “mastermind” of 9/11, great warrior of words that he be…you want your kid to wander down some street in the land of “walls” so that Bill Clinton can ask us to pay his wife’s debts? What about those 3 SEALS who were acquitted; their defense costs?

    It’s no wonder our troops are creating hardened compounds in those two countries instead of walking the beat all the time with the natives.

    Our elected leaders don’t have “their backs” at all!

    Vote these bums out of office, sooner, rather than later!

  6. Tim,

    Excellent post, as usual. The play-by-play analysis of the raid was really interesting. On question for you, though: In the two pictures of the failed attempts to breach that last wall, there are a ton of strikes on the wall, some very far from the blast point. Are these bullet strikes, or frag from the suicide vests?

    I always look forward to hearing your insights, as there is virtually no word from the streets of Afghanistan these days. Stay safe, and thanks!

  7. The Financial Times is reporting today that the cost for “security” for each truck on the Kandahar to Kabul road is now at least 1000 dollars Is this accurate ? How much of this might be going to the Taliban ?

    1. For obvious reasons I can’t answer firsthand but…

      I’ve seen similar amounts mentioned for the same route over the last couple of years. I think there might even be something on it buried back in Tim’s archieves.

      I would think that how much goes to the Talib depends entirely on who owns (provides security, sets up shakedown points) each particular stretch of that road and who they are allied with. There are many owners.

      Regardless, it is safe to say that we have been paying the Talib to protect our supply lines from the Talib, for quite a while now.

      BAD
      CRAZINESS,
      R

  8. babatim thanks for posting the report.And a big thank you to Tim of Panjwayi for writing and shearing his thoughts. With Iran so close by,should they move up more ANA/ANP or would this make more thing tense.?

  9. Nobody wants to be the President Who Lost Afghanistan. Thats why Obama did what he did despite all evidence that it won’t ever work. Bush f’ed up in Afghanistan hugely in favor of the big lie in Iraq. He fumbled whatever small window of opportunity we may have had there.

    “When our commander in chief, the great lawyer/warrior/sophist Obama-”

    Grow up. I’m gonna bet you didn’t have much to say about the Chickenhawk in Chief and incompetent corporate today Bush. he had no problem at all with the massive loss of life his policies caused on either side. He was a desertrer in time of war even though his daddy got him a cushy NG seat.

  10. I really found your post helpful. Although I know a lot about the topic, I’ve never come across the information that you wrote about. Thanks for the post.

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