Last Wednesday morning the local Taliban sent eight guys to attack the US Army base at Jalalabad Airfield known as FOB Fenty. They initiated the attack with a car bomb in a rarely used entry point on the southeastern side of the airfield which is well away from the Torkham to Jalalabad road. The remaining attackers tried to bum rush the damaged gate and got shot all to hell by the American soldiers who man the guard towers. Adding insult to injury there just happened to be a section of fully armed and fueled Apaches in the air and they were instantly able to pounce on the survivors of the futile charge at the damaged gate as they fled back towards a small village called Moqamkhan. A joint force of ANA and 101st Paratroopers went into the village and finished off the survivors in a short fire fight. FOB Fenty was back to normal by noon but the attack did generate plenty of news which may have been the point.
The attack on FOB Fenty has had zero impact on the local citizens or the troops stationed on the FOB – it was stupid and recognized as such. But Jalalabad has had a series of IED attacks in the Safi Bazaar which is in the main downtown area. The word on the street is that these are bombing targeting “un-Islamic” stores but they have hit cell phone stores and a juice bar which clearly fall within the definition of being properly Islamic. These attacks are very concerning but to date none of the local security offices have been able to turn up a night letter. This area of the bazaar has had its share of problems over the past few years with several firefights breaking out between vendors with the local ANP joining in for good measure. This could be score settling or the Taliban may feel strong enough to operate in openly in Jalalabad (which I doubt.)
Attacks against security forces is a standard Taliban tactic but their ability to cause a little mayhem in Jalalabad is not a new development. Their targeting had gotten better which is concerning and they have removed, or attempted to remove dozens of high ranking politicians and security officials.
Right now things are not looking too cool in Jbad for us internationals but there could be change afoot. Lost in all the news surrounding the appointment of Gen Petraeus is the amazing (one sided) fights which have been happening in both Kunar and Nuristan Provinces. Last week the troops stationed at the Nuristan PRT in Kala Gush spent several hours watching video feed of some 200 fighters climbing the mountain to the west of them in order to stage a massive attack. Or something. By the time these guys had humped all the heavy guns, mortars, rockets, ammo, etc… up the mountain there were B1’s stacked above them with 2000 lbs JDAMS. Talk about an ass whooping – these kind of attacks really piss off the local tribes because their young men join the fighters and losing young men for nothing is not covered in any part of the Pashtunwali code.
Around the same time one of the many groups of local Taliban associated bandit clans who has earlier launched an effective IED attack which killed 5 Americans was located in the Marawara valley which is just across the river from Assadabad. The 101st went after them with troops and rotary wing close air support. The villains, who have been openly hanging around Marawara for weeks prior, rushed in to reinforce and the Army has by now killed well over 150 of them.
There is much more American military activity around Jalalabad including flying columns of the varsity Afghan SF with their American advisers who use Toyota trucks just like their Afghan colleges. These small, fast, powerful formations are by far the most effective joint US/Afghan effort of the war and the only example of real embedded (as opposed to co-located) training currently being done with the Afghans . It is clear that the 101st has started challenging the various Taliban associates who have been operating openly in the region.
The shop keepers, ANP, Provincial Counsel members and various other men of importance can run the Taliban right out of Jalalabad if they want to. But they haven’t which is why this string of bombings is concerning and why the aggressive operations by the U.S. Army in RC East is welcomed news. Focusing on the population doesn’t mean giving the bad guys a free pass which I have written about many times in the past. Herschel Smith over at The Captain’s Journal has consistently covered this aspect of the COIN debate with the most coherent, in depth pieces on the topic. His latest can be found here and I am, as usual, in complete agreement.
The only way this current, and admittedly troubling, activity inside Jalalabad City is going to stop is if the Taliban out in the districts start getting their asses kicked on a routine basis. That is exactly what is happened in Kunar and Nuristan Province this week and may be happening south of me as I write this post. I don’t know if this sudeen increaase in activity has anything to do with the McChrystal relief or was just targets of opportunity popping up which fell within existing ROE (rules of engagement.) What I hope to see is a lot more of this aggressive posture because it is the only way those of us in the reconstruction fight will be able to maintain freedom of movement.
General Petreaus has a window of opportunity to turn this thing around. He arrived in country today and he may well turn out to be the right man arriving at exactly the right time. Inshallah.