Free Range International

Where There Is Smoke

This year’s fighting season has started off with a whimper in Helmand Province.  On May Day (as predicted) the only action was in Paktika Province where a child suicide bomber violated the latest Taliban  public announcement by blowing himself up in a police station.  The Taliban had just announced they would no longer allow beardless boys into their ranks and although the Pashtun are a hirsute people I’m not aware of  any 12 year olds who can cultivate a beard. On the 7th of May the Taliban launched a two day siege in Kandahar which accomplished little; they didn’t even manage to  inflict any casualties on ISAF or the Afghan security forces.

I have never seen this before. The poppy harvest is in (for the most part) the weather is warming up, it is time for the fighting to start but across the region the Taliban remains inactive.

We have never seen this before. The poppy harvest is in (for the most part) the weather is warming up, it is time for the fighting to start but across the region the Taliban remains inactive. Hat tip to Sami the Finn at Indicum Consulting for the stats.


Panjawayi Tim tells us this is the enduring image of the Kandahar siege. 24/7 helicopter gunship coverage overhead

Panjawayi Tim said this is the enduring image of what became known as the 2011 Battle of Kandahar;  24/7 helicopter gunship coverage overhead

Defeating the Taliban in battle in downtown Kandahar is not a victory for the good guys because of the fact they were fighting in downtown Kandahar.  The people of Kandahar are the prize for both ISAF and the Taliban; the real estate is meaningless so the fact that the Taliban even mounted this operation is bad news.  There are additional reports that groups of Taliban fighters had “foreigners” embedded in them which may, or may not, be true.

It is still amazing to see ISAF throwing around air to ground missiles like this is such a crowded urban area. They are unbelievably good at this

It is still amazing to see ISAF throwing around air to ground missiles like this in such a crowded urban area.  This strike went into one of the Taliban strong points which were only a few buildings away from Panjawai Tim’s compound.

The Taliban did spend 10 to 15 minutes warning local people near the government buildings to bug out ahead of the fighting which was appreciated by the local population.  They then launched a spirited attack, gained a foothold in some government buildings, barricaded themselves inside those buildings and then sat around waiting for ANSF to come fight them which took a couple of days of deliberately cautious fighting. After the assassination of the Provincial Chief of Police, Khan Mohammed Mujaheed, and the jail break at Sarapoza prison, the locals have serious doubts about the ability of ISAF and ANSF to protect them. This summer is going to be the tipping point for somebody and now that the Taliban have reportedly imported foreigners to help them fight they have to fight or risk losing their foreign fighters piecemeal.  JSOTF doesn’t take days off, they don’t sleep, they won’t stop and will not run out of money.  They go after foreigners like white on rice and Afghans will sell out foreigners in a heartbeat (if the price is right) regardless of which side in this conflict they support. If there are that many foreigners here they have to fight or flee; going to ground in hopes of avoiding compromise by the locals is not going to work.

Outfitting the ANA with M16's and protective armor was a great call. It deprives the Taliban of one of their traditional sources for small arms ammunition while allowing our mentors to operate with troops who have the same level of protection as they do.

Outfitting the ANA with M16’s and body armor was a great call. It deprives the Taliban of one of their traditional sources of small arms ammunition while allowing our mentors to operate with troops who have the same level of protection as they do.

So where is the spring offensive?  Looks like it’s in the north:

The north is starting to heat up which is not good because there is all sorts of room up there to maneuver and the ISAF forces in the region are not known for offensive prowless

The north is starting to heat up which is not good because there is all sorts of room up there to maneuver and the ISAF forces in the region are not known for offensive prowess

Here are a few recent security reports from last week (AGE =anti-government elements in UN security speak):

On 2 May, Balkh Province, Chahar Bolak District, Timurak Village, at approximately 1830hrs, reportedly 150 fully armed AGE entered to the village and overwhelmed the entire village.

On 6 May, Sari Pul Province, Sayyad District, Khwaja Chargonbat and Khwaja Yagana Villages, at approximately 1300hrs, AGE attacked ANSF within the above villages. There were firefights for three consecutive nights which forced the ANSF to withdraw from the village and AGE captured the mentioned villages. One ANA personnel and one local police were wounded.

On 7 May, Balkh Province, Chimtal District, Hotaki Village, at approximately 2005hrs, AGE fired 15 rounds of mortar towards ANP Posts. One of the mortars impacted on an ANP vehicle and as a result, the ANP vehicle was damaged.

Security in the northern portion of the country has been going down the tubes since 2008 with Taliban influence spreading into provinces that have little or no Pashtun population. Their gains came from a combination of  ideology and religion with non-Pashtun peoples who have very few reasons to  side with them.  Actually they have only one reason to  throw in  with the Taliban  which is this; the Taliban settle land disputes and other legal manners in a way which is perceived by all sides as fair and just. Two of the most experienced journalists working in  Afghanistan, Antonio Giustozzi and Christoph Reuter, just released a 64 page report titled The Insurgents of the Afghan North which is a fascinating, detailed account about how the Taliban gained such a large foothold. But 150 armed Taliban running around Balkh Province?  That is hard to believe.

Panjawai Tim has been trying out his new D 90 and got a few good shots from his compound. A few of my loyal readers (mainly Marines I must admit) have been complaining bitterly about the lack of pictures and graphs lately so I'm sticking a bunch in this post

Another shot from Tim’s compound

In 2010 joint Afghan/American SF teams started in on the Taliban shadow government and Taliban leaders up North and they had a clean run with only one exception; the targeted killing of “a senior member” of the Islamic Movement of  Uzbekistan (IMU) Mohammed Amin. They did not get Mr. Amin but ended up killing a prominent former Taliban commander named Zabet Amanullah, who was out campaigning for his nephew’s parliament run. I remember this as being a big deal when it happened but didn’t know the story behind it until this  recent post on The AfPak Channel by Kate Clark.  Ms. Clark makes an interesting observation in her piece:

Dealing with the U.S. military, it has felt like we are from parallel worlds. Their Afghanistan, where knowledge is often driven largely by signals intelligence and reports provided by a very limited number of local informants, with a very narrow focus on insurgent behavior, and the normal, everyday world of Afghan politics. In the case of the Takhar attack, these two worlds simply did not connect.

This too  has been my observation for many years however it is no longer true in the Helmand Province. The Marines are too active inside a population which is limited to the irrigated lands fed by the Helmand River. Their constant patrolling out of an ever expanding series of spartan combat outposts is paying off.  They are gleaning the human intelligence that naturally flows from constant contact with local villagers. We don’t have that ability in the north and judging from both of the articles linked above we have done about all we can do.

The SF teams have run the JPEL up north and although the Taliban filled their vacancies, the old home grown local leaders have apparently been decimated.  Their replacements are not from the local tribes and are  overwhelmingly Pashtun.  My prediction (and I’m on a roll with Egypt still up in the air) is that the North will be end up being the test case for the Karzai government and the Afghan Security Forces.  With the Helmand on  lock-down, our litmus test in the southern Pastun heartland remains in and around Kandahar. If the Taliban have really imported foreign fighters they have a  problem. They’re running out of maneuver room and their foreign fighters are soon going start run out of time.

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    9 comments to Where There Is Smoke

    • Hey Tim, perhaps the food angle is what could help to locate these foreign elements? Robert Bear talked about ‘chicken feathers’ in Pakistan, as a way of identifying foreign fighters there. Meaning, arab dudes like their chicken, and the locals are into other forms of food–like goat or whatever. So perhaps monitoring the local super markets to see what is selling might provide some clues as to location of and type of individuals in the area?

      Or well planned and executed pseudo operations could sniff these guys out. Or better yet, set up a Judas fighter. lol Someone that is unknowingly carrying a tracking device within their equipment, phone or weapon. There are devices now that only emit a signal at certain times, and would be very difficult to detect if it was deeply planted in something.

      The other thing you mentioned is the land dispute thing. It still amazes me that this has not been addressed by the government or coalition yet? The ownership of land and the records of such things, is so important in any part of the world. So for there to be disputes like this still lingering in Afghanistan, after all of these years of assistance, is just dumb. How many ‘friends’ could we have made, just by helping to secure this aspect of Afghan life? The Taliban should not have a monopoly on this process, and this only strengthens the perceived power of their shadow governments.

      Good post and interesting statistics about the beginnings of the fighting season.

      • babatim

        Settling land disputes is a huge issue here – remember that post I put up last year where the ANP were burning out entire villages in Nangarhar? Having Mullahs make the call regarding land ownership and then shooting anybody who bitches about that call seems to be the best was to settle them. I have also found out that there are as many as 6 CIA led Terrorist Pursuit Teams operating around the country and they look and act like pseudo operators. But they are used for HVT’s or (I remember seeing them in Fenty but never mentioned it because I had not seen anything in the press about them and didn’t know who they were anyway) they are sent out after incidents like Wanat. I understand that they are very effective but like you don’t think it should be just tier 1 units operating that way.

        It’s not going to take monitoring bazaars to find Arab fighters – the Afghans will sell them out in a heartbeat; all you need is a few thousand dollars.

    • Bravo, Tim! Good post and interesting statistics!

    • Osama Bin Laden is death and I think this is good because al qaida know that they are not beatable. I think this is a revenge for destroying the towers 2011. But I’m interested which strategy al qaida will use in the future.

    • Here is another idea. Set up a bounty system that the local population can participate in for turning in foreign fighters. Kind of like Crime Stoppers in the US. If money gets folks involved, then set up an offense industry to accomplish the task. Perhaps that money could come from CERP or whatever funds, but I can’t imagine such a program being that expensive.

    • Foreign fighters = euphemism for al-Qaeda.


    • […] over to Free Range International for a great roundup of recent events and thoughts from a pair of boots on the ground.Shocka! […]

    • Navguns

      good smart guy data to back up your on scene observation. but the underlying question hasn’t changed, “is the juice worth the squeeze”? Kandahar was nothing more than a “show of force”; such as it is for the local Talib’s. we’ve suspected for some time, all the dumb bad guys are already dead. and w/ the Arab Spring in full bloom, AQ, and its’ many interations, have many opportunities to choose from. Not that I necessarily believe that AQ is the underlying culprit for the uprisings in the ME and NA . BLUF, what is the new improved USG policy in a post OBL world? What changes in AFG? When it’s all said and done, will our efforts be anymore productive than punching water? Be well and be safe brother.

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