Category Archive 'Taliban'
03 Jan 2010

FOB Chapman Deaths Represent Major CIA Setback

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ABC News reports that Wednesday’s suicide attack was the result of the unprecedented infiltration of the Agency by jihadi opponents employing a double agent who had successfully gained the trust of CIA officers.

The losses inflicted by the suicide attack were key personnel central to the Agency’s drone attack program whose regional expertise and experience will be very difficult to replace.

The suicide bomber who killed at least six Central Intelligence Agency officers in a base along the Afghan-Pakistan border on Wednesday was a regular CIA informant who had visited the same base multiple times in the past, according to someone close to the base’s security director.

The informant was a Pakistani and a member of the Wazir tribe from the Pakistani tribal area North Waziristan, according to the same source. The base security director, an Afghan named Arghawan, would pick up the informant at the Ghulam Khan border crossing and drive him about two hours into Forward Operating Base Chapman, from where the CIA operates.

Because he was with Arghawan, the informant was not searched, the source says. Arghawan also died in the attack.

The story seems to corroborate a claim by the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border that they had turned a CIA asset into a double agent and sent him to kill the officers in the base, located in the eastern Afghan province of Khost.

The infiltration into the heart of the CIA’s operation in eastern Afghanistan deals a strong blow to the agency’s ability to fight Taliban and al Qaeda, former intelligence officials say, and will make the agency reconsider how it recruits Pakistani and Afghan informants.

The officers who were killed in the attack were at the heart of the United States’ effort against senior members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, former intelligence officials say. They collected intelligence on the militant commanders living on both sides of the border and helped run paramilitary campaigns that tired to kill those commanders, including the drone program that has killed a dozen senior al Qaeda with missiles fired from unpiloted aircraft.

The former intelligence officials all say the CIA will be able to replace those who were killed, but the officials acknowledge the attack killed decades of knowledge held by some of the agency’s most informed experts on the region, the Taliban and al Qaeda. It also killed at least one officer who had been part of the agency’s initial hunt for Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s.

“This is a tremendous loss for the agency,” says Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who led the bin Laden unit. “The agency is a relatively small organization, and its expertise in al Qaeda is even a smaller subset of that overall group.”

At least 13 officers gathered in the base’s gym to talk with the informant, suggesting he was highly valued. His prior visits to the base and his ability to get so close to so many officers also suggests that he had already provided the agency with valuable intelligence that had proven successful, former intelligence officials say.

That information was most likely linked with the CIA’s drone program on the Pakistani side of the border. …

The most likely Taliban group to have perpetrated the attack is the one led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the CIA’s most important assets when the agency was helping fund the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis have been running militant operations for 30 years and have recently become perhaps the most lethal commanders targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. They are based in North Waziristan but control large parts of Khost and other provinces in eastern Afghanistan as well.

The Haqqanis have also kidnapped the only known American soldier in enemy custody — PFC Bowe Bergdahl — according to a senior NATO official. Since Bergdahl was kidnapped in late June, the official says the Haqqanis “have been getting pounded” and a “great many of their mid to senior leaders have been captured and/or killed.”

The infiltration into the CIA base suggests an extremely high level of sophistication, even for a network that has a huge reach across the area.

“The Soviet Union during the Cold War, the Cubans during the Cold War were able to run double agents against the CIA very successfully,” says Clarke. “But for a non-nation state to be able to do this — for the Haqqani network of the Taliban to be able to do this — represents a huge increase in the sophistication of the enemy.”

Clarke and other former intelligence officials predict the CIA in Afghanistan will be forced to question who they can trust and change their methods in how they find informants.

The only victim of the attack who has been publicly identified is 37-year-old Harold Brown Jr., a father of three. The base chief, a woman in her 30s, was also killed, according to current and former intelligence officials. She is believed to have been focused on al Qaeda since before 9/11. A former U.S. official says a second woman was also killed in the attack, and that both women had “considerable counterintelligence experience.”

The attack also killed Captain Al Shareef Ali bin Zeid, a member of the Jordanian spy agency Dairat al-Mukhabarat al-Ammah, according to people who have spoken with bin Zeid’s family. The Jordanian military released a statement acknowledging bin Zeid had been killed in Afghanistan, but did not mention he was working with the CIA.

5:22 video

03 Jan 2010

FOB Chapman Suicide Bombing Linked to Failed Saudi Assassination and Flight 253

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A suicide bombing assassination attempt last August on the life of the Saudi chief of Counter-terrorism Operations, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, Debka sources reveal, was the opening move in a new al Qaeda terrorism offensive, and served as a tactical example both for the failed bombing of Flight 253 and for the successful suicide attack responsible for the deaths of seven CIA officers at Forward Operating Base Chapman on December 30th.


Had the White House National Security Council, US intelligence and counter-terror agencies properly studied al Qaeda’s failed attempt to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, deputy interior minister and commander of the Saudi anti-terror campaign in Yemen five motnhs ago, they might have detected pointers to al Qaeda’s latest terror offensive and its methods.

Like the Nigerian bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, the Saudi minister’s would-be assassin, Abdullah Hassan Tali’ al-Asiri (al Qaeda-styled Abu Khair), who did not survive the attack, used explosives hidden in his underwear to fool the prince’s bodyguards. He won an audience with the prince by posing as an informant, the same trick used by the Taliban suicide bomber to penetrate a US base and kill 7 CIA agents and a US soldier last month.

This emerging prototype was missed by US intelligence experts. …

Obama, who has called a meeting of US security agency chiefs for Tuesday, Jan. 5, cannot expect serious brainstorming because it would be inhibited by a mindset that refuses to refer to the failed mass-murderer as an illegal or enemy combatant or terrorist but only as a “suspect.” Treated like a common or garden criminal, the Nigerian has been committed to an ordinary lock-up. This has given him the opportunity to hire American lawyers, who right away shut his mouth and advised him not to cooperate in answering questions about his accessories and masters.

With this invaluable intelligence door closed, the US president has turned to measures for enhancing the security of US air travelers and air traffic bound for US ports and demanded the matching-up of the counter-terror watch and no-fly lists. Abdulmutallab appeared on the first but was left off the second as a result of the failure of US intelligence agencies to share incoming data about his record.

Furthermore, should Obama and his advisers decide on retaliation, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources are assured by reports from Yemen that al Qaeda’s operatives were no longer hanging around their bases twelve days after the airliner episode; they had packed up and made tracks for fresh hideouts in the northern mountains and Hadhramaut.

Since Obama’s Monday, Dec. 23 pledge: “We will not rest until we find all who were involved,” the days slipping by without a US reaction have given al Qaeda the chance to plot more airliner attacks from a safe location.

The second breach in US defenses against terrorist attack has deeper roots and derives from the misconceptions about al Qaeda governing US intelligence thinking well before Barack Obama’s day in the White House.

Prince Muhammad in Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s top counter-terror executive, escaped with light injuries from Abu Khair’s attempt to kill him at his Jeddah palace on August 27, 2009, thanks mainly to the partial detonation of the explosive materials hidden in his underpants, a glitch repeated in the Nigerian bomber’s attempt.

The assassin gained entry to the most heavily fortified and guarded palace in the Red Sea town of Jeddah by convincing Saudi agents in Yemen that he was ready to switch sides – but only if he could discuss terms face to face with Prince Muhammad.

They did in fact hold several meetings – not in the palace but out in Najran province on the Yemen border. The data he handed over was solid enough to convince the Saudi prince that he was on the threshold of his government’s biggest breakthrough in its war on al Qaeda.

So when Abu Khair offered to bring with him to the Jeddah palace a list of al Qaeda high-ups in Yemen willing to defect to Saudi Arabia, the prince not only agreed to the venue but sent his private jet to pick him up from Najran.

Our counter-terror sources allow that the government in Riyadh may have kept the details of this plot from the Americans – and not for the first time. Still, CIA and FBI undercover agents in the oil kingdom could have got wind of it from their own contacts.

Had it been properly scrutinized and analyzed, there was much valuable input to be gained from the attempt on Prince Muhammad, betraying as it did Al Qaeda methods which were later replicated in the attempted bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and, again, in the deadly attack on Dec. 30 against the CIA contingent at Forward Operation Base Chapman, in the remote Afghan Khost province.

The bomber, who has not been identified yet, not only gained entry with explosives in his possession to the well-guarded US base, but detonated the device while the agents were unarmed and working out in the base gym.

How was this accomplished? The bomber had in fact been employed as a CIA informer and was therefore known at the gate and familiar with the routines of Base Chapman. Furthermore, he knew enough to time his attack for the day of the arrival in Kabul of a high-ranking CIA official. There has been no word about this official’s fate.


And, in Newsweek, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball are reporting that Prince Muhammad bin Nayef briefed the White House in October about al Qaeda’s new explosive undergarments.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was briefed in October on an assassination attempt by Al Qaeda that investigators now believe used the same underwear bombing technique as the Nigerian suspect who tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, U.S. intelligence and administration officials tell NEWSWEEK.

The briefing to Brennan was delivered at the White House by Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s chief counterterrorism official. …

U.S. officials now suspect that Nayef’s attempted assassin and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect aboard the Northwest flight, had the same bomb maker in Yemen.

31 Dec 2009

8 CIA Officers Killed By Taliban Suicide Bomber

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8 more stars will be needed for the Agency’s memorial wall

LA Times:

A bomber slipped into a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday and detonated a suicide vest, killing eight CIA officers in one of the deadliest days in the agency’s history, current and former U.S. officials said.

The attack took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khowst province, an area near the border with Pakistan that is a hotbed of insurgent activity. An undisclosed number of civilians were wounded, the officials said. No military personnel with the U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces were killed or injured, they said.

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the CIA had a major presence at the base, in part because of its strategic location.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a message posted early today on its Pashto-language website. The statement, attributed to spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, said the attacker was a member of the Afghan army who entered the base clad in his military uniform. It identified him only as Samiullah. …

A former U.S. intelligence official knowledgeable about the bombing said it killed more CIA personnel than any attack since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983. Before Wednesday’s attack, four CIA operatives had been killed in Afghanistan, the former official said.

The eight dead were CIA officers, the former official said. “They were all career CIA officials.”

The U.S. official said the bomber detonated his explosives vest in an area that was used as a fitness center.

17 Dec 2009

Insurgents Have $26 Advantage

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The Wall Street Journal reports on an interesting feat of technical ingenuity by the enemy.

Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.

02 Dec 2009

Needed Immediately: 18 Month Vacation Rental

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Barack Obama, West Point speech, December 1, 2009:

“Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.”


Mullah Omar, Craigslist Real Estate Wanted Ad, December 2, 2009:

Islamic scholar and Commander of the Faithful taking 18 month sabbatical starting January 1st needs vacation rental running up to August 1, 2011. Pleasant climate and complete privacy essential. Housing for large security staff, athletic and recreation facilities required (shooting range preferred). Contact:

22 Oct 2009

Disturbing Irony

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Bill O’Reilly actually made an eloquent statement with some intelligent points this time.

“Something very disturbing about the Obama Administration fighting harder against Fox News than the Taliban.”

2:45 video

Hat tip to Jim Hoft via the News Junkie.

20 Oct 2009

America’s Pashtun Predicament

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19th century Pathans

The Pathans (as they used to call them in English), or Pashtuns (as is preferred currently), the largest ethnic group (c. 42,000,000 people) without a state, are the hosts of al Qaeda and Taliban’s prime recruiting base. Their inhospitable mountainous tribal homelands are the base of the insurgency in Afghanistan and the safe refuge of Islamic terrorism.

In their very significant paper No Sign until the Burst of Fire: Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier, Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason address the issue at length, providing a quick background in history and ethnology, and explaining how Pakistan and the United States created the problem in the first place by facilitating the preaching of jihad to oppose the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan. The authors contend that efforts to impose external authority on the Pashtuns only provoke greater fanaticism and more enthusiastic resistance, and argue that the key to defeating Islamic extremism among the Pashtun tribes consists of strengthening indigenous self-rule and conducting diplomatic relations with the tribes in a fashion consistent with a Pashtun perspective and sense of honor very different from our own.

According to tradition, members of the Pashtun Hill Tribes who inhabit the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) are descendents of Karlan, a foundling adopted as the fourth son of Qais Abdur Rashid, a contemporary of the Prophet Mohammed and the ur-ancestor of the Pashtun ethnic group. The Hill Tribes, or Karlanri, include many of the most warlike tribes, such as the Afridis, Daurs, Jadrans, Ketrans, Mahsuds, Mohmands, and Waziris. Of all the Pashtun tribes, the Waziris of greater Waziristan (a region that includes North Waziristan Agency, South Waziristan Agency, and the Bermol District of Afghanistan’s Paktika Province) are reputed to be the most conservative and irascible. The Waziris pride themselves on never having paid taxes to any sovereign and never having their lands, which they consider veiled, or in purdah, conquered. (Considered good but unreliable fighters by the British during the colonial era, the Waziris and several other tribes were prohibited de facto from enlisting in native regiments of the Indian Army.)

Historically, the rural Pashtuns have dominated their neighbors and have avoided subjugation or integration by a larger nation. As one elderly Pashtuntribesman told Mountstuart Elphinstone, a British official visiting Afghanistan in 1809, “We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood . . . we will never be content with a master.” This characteristic makes Pashtuns the perfect insurgents.

With more than 25 million members, the Pashtun represent one of the largest tribal groups in the world. …

Pashtuns identify themselves in terms of their familial ties and commitments, and have a fundamentally different way of looking at the world. As the preeminent Afghan scholar M. Jamil Hanifi wrote in 1978: “The Afghan individual is surrounded . . . by concentric rings consisting of family, extended family, clan, tribe, confederacy, and major cultural-linguistic group. The hierarchy of loyalties corresponds to these circles and becomes more intense as the circle gets smaller . . . seldom does an Afghan, regardless of cultural background, need the services and/or the facilities of the national government. Thus, in case of crisis, his recourse is to the kinship and, if necessary, the larger cultural group. National feelings and loyalties are filtered through the successive layers.”

Pashtuns engage in social, political, and economic activities within these concentric rings; this engagement prevents government-oriented institutions from gaining a foothold in tribal areas.24 This segmentation is one reason why, historically, no foreign entity—whether Alexander, the British, the Soviets, the Afghans, or the Pakistanis—has been able to reconcile the Pashtun to external rule. During the nineteenth century, at the height of its imperial power, Great Britain struggled and failed to subject the Pashtuns to state authority. Even the most brutal of these foreign incursions, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, failed to subjugate the Pashtuns—despite genocidal military tactics and a massive commitment of military personnel and firepower that killed more than a million Pashtuns and drove at least 3 million more into exile in Pakistan and Iran. …

The obstinacy of the Pashtun tribes and the inability of the British Empire to control them led to a border policy of “masterly inactivity” that essentially used the tribesmen as a buffer between India’s northern frontier and the approaching Russian Empire in Central Asia. Successive Pakistani and Afghan governments were no more successful than the British or the Russians, and the designation of this region as a kind of tribal no man’s land over generations created the loose political system of tribal autonomy in the FATA seen today. Indeed the name for this area is actually a misnomer. It is not federally administered in any sense of the word. Constitutionally, Islamabad has never maintained legal jurisdiction over more than 100 meters to the left and right of the few paved roads in the tribal areas. …

Why have the Pashtuns provided a safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qaida, while their neighbors along the same border have proven so resistant to such religious radicalization?…

The explanation for the Pashtuns’ provision of safe haven to the Taliban and al-Qaida lies in their unique social code, known as Pashtunwali: a set of values and unwritten, but universally understood, precepts that define Pashtun culture. Pashtunwali, literally translated, means “the way of the Pashtun.” For U.S. policymakers seeking to address the challenges of the Pashtun tribal areas, an understanding of the core principles of this cultural value system is crucial. Pashtunwali is the keystone of the Pashtuns’ identity and social structure, and it shapes all forms of behavior from the cradle to the grave. Its rules are largely responsible for the survival of the Pashtun tribes for more than 1,000 years, but they remain little understood in the West. As Charles Allen writes, “[Pashtunwali is] an uncompromising social code so profoundly at odds with Western mores that its application constantly brings one up with a jolt.” A Pashtun must adhere to this code to maintain his honor and retain his identity. The worst obscenity one Pashtun can call another is dauz, or “person with no honor.” In a closed, interdependent rural society, a Pashtun family without honor becomes a pariah, unable to compete for advantageous marriages or economic opportunities, and shunned by the other families as a disgrace to the clan. …

Intrinsically flexible and dynamic, Pashtunwali has core tenets that include self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, forgiveness, and tolerance. Not all Pashtuns embody the ideal type defined by Pashtunwali, but all respect its core values and admire—if sometimes grudgingly—those who do. When hillmen come down out of the mountains to buy staples in the bazaar of a valley town, with their long fighting knives visible in their waistbands, the towns-people are likely to sneak admiring glances and mutter something to their friends about “real Pashtuns.” …

For centuries, these interlocking elements of the unwritten code of the Pashtun—freedom, honor, revenge, and chivalry—have defeated every effort to subdue the Pashtuns and supersede Pashtunwali with a more codified and centralized rule of law. Nevertheless,Western policymakers continue to ignore or to downplay the primacy of these fundamental cultural values in their efforts to shape strategies for southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, while the Taliban and al-Qaida use them for recruitment, shelter, and social mobilization.

19 Oct 2009

Afghanistan is “The Base”

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Peter Bergin, in the New Republic, explains the centrality of Afghanistan to the US effort defeat Islamic terrorism.

(Najibullah) Zazi, a onetime coffee-cart operator on Wall Street and shuttle-van driver at the Denver airport, was planning what could have been the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since September 11. Prior to his arrest last month, the FBI discovered pages of handwritten notes on his laptop detailing how to turn common, store-bought chemicals into bombs. If proven guilty, Zazi would be the first genuine Al Qaeda recruit discovered in the United States in the past few years.

The novel details of the case were sobering. Few Americans, after all, were expecting to be terrorized by an Al Qaeda agent wielding hair dye. But it was perhaps the least surprising fact about Zazi that was arguably the most consequential: where he is said to have trained.

In August 2008, prosecutors allege, Zazi traveled to Pakistan’s tribal regions and studied explosives with Al Qaeda members. If that story sounds familiar, it should: Nearly every major jihadist plot against Western targets in the last two decades somehow leads back to Afghanistan or Pakistan. The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was masterminded by Ramzi Yousef, who had trained in an Al Qaeda camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Ahmed Ressam, who plotted to blow up LAX airport in 1999, was trained in Al Qaeda’s Khaldan camp in Afghanistan. Key operatives in the suicide attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000 trained in Afghanistan; so did all 19 September 11 hijackers. The leader of the 2002 Bali attack that killed more than 200 people, mostly Western tourists, was a veteran of the Afghan camps. The ringleader of the 2005 London subway bombing was trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The British plotters who planned to blow up passenger planes leaving Heathrow in the summer of 2006 were taking direction from Pakistan; a July 25, 2006, e-mail from their Al Qaeda handler in that country, Rashid Rauf, urged them to “get a move on.” If that attack had succeeded, as many as 1,500 would have died. The three men who, in 2007, were planning to attack Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. facility in Germany, had trained in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

And yet, as President Obama weighs whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, the connection between the region and Al Qaeda has suddenly become a matter of hot dispute in Washington. We are told that September 11 was as much a product of plotting in Hamburg as in Afghanistan; that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are quite distinct groups, and that we can therefore defeat the former while tolerating the latter; that flushing jihadists out of one failing state will merely cause them to pop up in another anarchic corner of the globe; that, in the age of the Internet, denying terrorists a physical safe haven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

These arguments point toward one conclusion: The effort to secure Afghanistan is not a matter of vital U.S. interest. But those who make this case could not be more mistaken. Afghanistan and the areas of Pakistan that border it have always been the epicenter of the war on jihadist terrorism-and, at least for the foreseeable future, they will continue to be. Though it may be tempting to think otherwise, we cannot defeat Al Qaeda without securing Afghanistan.

A young Osama Bin Laden first arrived in the region around 1980 to wage jihad against the Soviets; he would spend most of his adult life in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda leaders have, since the ’80s, developed deep relationships with key Taliban commanders based along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and members of the Haqqani family. Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, has even married into a local tribe. …

Al Qaeda’s leaders are themselves keenly aware of the importance of maintaining a safe haven. The very words Al Qaeda mean “the base” in Arabic; and, as bin Laden explained in an interview with Al Jazeera in 2001, the name is not a reference to some kind of abstract foundation but, rather, to a physical spot for training: “Abu Ubaidah Al Banjshiri [an early military commander of Al Qaeda] created a military base to train the young men to fight. … So this place was called ‘The Base,’ as in a training base, and the name grew from this.”

But it isn’t just a safe haven that Al Qaeda wants; it is a state. As Zawahiri explained shortly after September 11 in his autobiographical Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner, “Confronting the enemies of Islam, and launching jihad against them require a Muslim authority, established on a Muslim land that raises the banner of jihad and rallies the Muslims around it. Without achieving this goal our actions will mean nothing.” No wonder Al Qaeda remains so committed to Afghanistan-and so deeply invested in helping the Taliban succeed.

15 Oct 2009

Taliban Attacks Targeting Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Bases

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Pakistani Air Force bases. Note nuclear weapons sites Sarghoda and Kamra.

DEBKAfile has rumors of the Taliban targeting the bases containing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report: Five days Taliban gunmen and bombers hit Pakistan’s army headquarters in Islamabad and at the same time advanced on the northwestern Kohat road to Peshawar and a cluster of air bases holding its nuclear arsenal around Kamra in the North West Frontier Province.

Thursday, Taliban struck further northeast toward the Kamra nuclear center, aiming to cut it off from Islamabad, 150 kilometers east of Kohat. They have begun encircling the Sargodha air base, the location of nuclear warheads stores. En route, suicide attackers flattened a police station in the Saddar suburb of Kohat town, killing 10 people and wounding 20.

Taliban has stepped up the tempo of its large-scale assaults in an effort to unbalance central government and the military command as they prepare a major offensive against terrorist bastions in South Waziristan.


This news agency story discusses varying opinions of the security of Pakistan’s estimated 70 to 90 nuclear warheads.


Bill Roggio has analysis of what is going on.

The spate of attacks at military bases has largely targeted officers, new recruits, and the families of those serving. The Taliban and al Qaeda’s objective may be two-fold: intimidate officers either on the fence or who do not support the Islamists, and erode the military’s capacity to defend nuclear installations if the Taliban and al Qaeda can mount a raid to seize nuclear weapons. While the Pakistani nuclear weapons are under tight security according to the government, US intelligence officials have repeatedly expressed concerned over the safety of Pakistan’s arsenal.

The Taliban’s campaign to take control of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and its strong presence in Quetta and wider Baluchistan Province also plays into the West’s fears over Pakistan’s nuclear program. The Northwest Frontier Province not only serves as a base for the Taliban and al Qaeda Central Command, the territory directly abuts sensitive nuclear sites in the province of Punjab.

10 Oct 2009

Taliban Attack Pakistani Army Headquarters

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Reuters photo

LA Times

In a brazen attack on Pakistan’s military nerve center, gunmen disguised in army uniforms broke into the grounds of the country’s army headquarters today, sparking a furious firefight that left four attackers and six military personnel dead.

By late Saturday, the tense scene at the compound had evolved into a hostage crisis. As many as five gunmen remained holed up in a security building and were holding 10 to 15 security officers and civilian workers as hostages, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

The initial attack, which lasted about 90 minutes, illustrated the breadth of the militants’ ability to launch attacks virtually anywhere in the violence-wracked Muslim nation — even the epicenter of its vaunted security establishment.

At about 11:30 a.m., Abbas said, the gunmen drove up in a white Suzuki van to a perimeter checkpoint outside the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi, a garrison city adjacent to Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Armed with automatic rifles, the gunmen opened fire at guards at the checkpoint, jumped out of the van and then took positions outside a second checkpoint about 330 yards down the road. Four of the military personnel killed in the siege died in that initial exchange of gunfire, Abbas said.

Officials said they believed the use of camouflage military uniforms, along with military plates on the van, probably helped the gunmen approach the first checkpoint without an initial reaction from guards. The strategy mirrored the tactics used in a suicide bomb blast at the U.N.’s World Food Program office Monday. In that attack, in which five World Food Program employees were slain, the suicide bomber wore a Pakistani paramilitary police uniform and got by the heavily guarded main entrance by asking for permission to use the restroom.

Once at the second checkpoint Saturday, the militants opened fire again and lobbed grenades at guards. Witnesses said bursts of gunfire continued to ring out for several minutes, punctuated by the sound of grenade blasts. Overhead, Pakistani military helicopters and Cobra gunships hovered.

While the gun battle raged on, some of the Army’s top generals and commanders were trapped inside the compound’s buildings. There were unconfirmed reports that explosives were found in the attackers’ van.

Police and soldiers established a cordon around the gunmen to keep them from fleeing. By early afternoon, security officials reported that four gunmen had been killed. Among the military personnel killed were a brigadier general and a lieutenant colonel responsible for security at the compound, Abbas said.

Early Saturday evening, military officials said they had traced the location of the gunmen at large to a security building within the compound, where they were holding hostage several security officers and civilian employees assigned to the army headquarters. Pakistani commandos surrounded the building, military officials said.

1:16 ITN News video

These kind of contemptible suicide attacks are really the tactic of an impotent and irrational enemy lashing out in a useless and unproductive manner. Except that in the contemporary era, the dominant voice is that of the militarily unsophisticated Western public, in whose eyes a news headline is equivalent to winning a major battle.

Terrorism’s real battlefield is in the reports of the media.

09 Sep 2009

New Rules of Engagement Costing Marines’ Lives

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The media is headlining collateral damage to Afghan civilians from coalition air strikes and US political leaders are covering themselves from criticism by reducing air strikes and implementing far stricter rules of engagement.


US Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged in an interview with Al Jazeera that civilian casualties have become “a real problem” for the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

Gates’ remarks, in an interview to be aired Monday by the Qatar-based Arabic satellite news channel, came amid a raging controversy over an air strike that killed scores of people Friday in northern Afghanistan.

“I think it’s a real problem, and General McChrystal thinks it’s a real problem, too,” Gates said, referring to Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.


New rules of engagement have had a real impact. Airstrikes on Afghan insurgents have been cut in half over the last few months.

Airstrikes by coalition forces in Afghanistan have dropped dramatically in the three months Gen. Stanley McChrystal has led the war effort there, reflecting his new emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties and protecting the population.

NATO fixed-wing aircraft dropped 1,211 bombs and other munitions during the past three months — the peak of the fighting season — compared with 2,366 during the same period last year, according to military statistics. The nearly 50% decline in airstrikes comes with an influx of more than 20,000 U.S. troops this year and an increase in insurgent attacks.

The shift is the result of McChrystal’s new directives, said Air Force Col. Mark Waite, an official at the air operations center in southwest Asia. Ground troops are less inclined to call for bombing or strafing runs, though they often have an aircraft conduct a “show of force,” a flyby to scare off insurgents, or use planes for surveillance, Waite said.


There is a price for those opportunistic media headlines, and for the cowardice of our leaders. It is paid by our troops, as Herschel Smith angrily explains.

(Quoted news account from McClatchey:)

    GANJGAL, Afghanistan — We walked into a trap, a killing zone of relentless gunfire and rocket barrages from Afghan insurgents hidden in the mountainsides and in a fortress-like village where women and children were replenishing their ammunition.

    “We will do to you what we did to the Russians,” the insurgent’s leader boasted over the radio, referring to the failure of Soviet troops to capture Ganjgal during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.

    Dashing from boulder to boulder, diving into trenches and ducking behind stone walls as the insurgents maneuvered to outflank us, we waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away.

    U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren’t near the village.

    “We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We’ve lost today,” Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter’s repeated demands for helicopters.

    Four U.S. Marines were killed Tuesday, the most U.S. service members assigned as trainers to the Afghan National Army to be lost in a single incident since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Eight Afghan troops and police and the Marine commander’s Afghan interpreter also died in the ambush and the subsequent battle that raged from dawn until 2 p.m. around this remote hamlet in eastern Kunar province, close to the Pakistan border. …

    The Marines were cut down as they sought cover in a trench at the base of the village’s first layer cake-style stone house. Much of their ammunition was gone. One Marine was bending over a second, tending his wounds, when both were killed, said Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, 21, of Greensburg, Ky., who retrieved their bodies.

I said it would happen, and only recently “officials” have admitted that the new Afghanistan ROE have opened up new space for the insurgents. Now it has cost the lives of four more U.S. Marines. How many more Marines will have to die before this issue is addressed? The new ROE should have been dealt with as a classified memorandum of encouragement and understanding to consider holistic consequences of actions rather than a change to formal rules by which our Marines and Soldiers are prosecuted by courts. Yet the damage has been and continues to be done by poor decisions at the highest levels of leadership.

Damn the ROE.

19 Aug 2009

Greater Attrition Needed

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Francis J. “Bing” West, former Marine captain and assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan Administration, writing in Small Wars Journal, criticizes the current strategic emphasis on non-combat “nation-building” activities in Afghanistan, arguing that unless the Taliban’s leadership, supply, and manpower are physically reduced by combat, the insurgency is not simply going to go away.

I came back from my latest month in the field in Afghanistan disquieted about our basic military mission. Is the military mission to engage, push back and dismantle the Talbian networks, with population protection being a tactic to gain tips and local militia, or is the military mission to build a nation by US soldiers protecting the widespread population, with engagements against the Taliban as a byproduct?

It appears our strategy is nation-building, with fighting and dismantling of the Taliban a secondary consideration. Thus, the number of enemy killed will not be counted, let alone used as a metric. This non-kinetic theory of counterinsurgency has persuaded the liberal community in America to support or at least not to vociferously oppose the war. But we have to maintain a balance between messages that gain domestic support and messages that direct battlefield operations.

We must understand what our riflemen do in Afghanistan every day. The answer is they conduct combat patrols. That underlies all their other activities. They go out with rifles to engage and kill the enemy. That is how they protect the population. For our generals to stress that the war is 80% non-kinetic discounts the basic activity of our soldiers. Although crime isn’t eradicated by locking up criminals, we expect our police to make arrests to keep the streets safe. Similarly, our riflemen are trained to engage the enemy. That’s how they protect the population. If we’re not out in the countryside night and day – and we’re not – then the Taliban can move around as they please and intimidate or persuade the population.

I’m not arguing that we Americans can ever dominate the Taliban gangs. There’s a level of understanding and accommodation among Afghans in the countryside that culturally surpasses our understanding. During the May poppy harvest, the shooting stops on both sides and men from far and wide head to the fields to participate in the harvest. That’s an Afghan thing. Only the Afghans can figure out what sort of society and leaders they want.

That said, we should strive to do a better job of what we are doing for as long as we are there. I condensed several hours of firefights I filmed during various patrols into the 30-second clip… (Not a Tactical Hurdle). The purpose is to illustrate a tactical problem that is strategic in its dimensions. Simply put, our ground forces are not inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. However, the annual bill for the US military in Afghanistan exceeds $70 billion, with another four to six billion for development. We’ve already spent $38 billion on Afghan reconstruction. Congress may eventually balk at spending such sums year after year. The problem is we’re liable to be gradually pulled out while the Taliban is intact. Nation-building alone is not sufficient; the Taliban must be disrupted.

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