Showing posts with label Helmand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Helmand. Show all posts

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Task Force Southwest First Rotation Complete

Task Force Southwest has seen the first rotation of Marines complete their tour. The nine-month deployment saw the Marines deploy advisors and trainers to assist the Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps and 505th Zone National Police in Helmand province. The Marines took over from Task Force Forge last spring - an Army organization that was advising the ANA and ANP. The advisory element was made up of Marines from III Marine Expeditionary Force and led by Brig. General Roger Turner. The new advisory team is led by  Brig. General Benjamin Watson. The transfer of authority occurred on January 15, 2018.

The second rotation of Marines will likely have looser rules of engagement and greater authorities. Resolute Support HQs has repeatedly indicated that advisors will be found at the lower tactical levels - going down to kandak (battalion) level to conduct the train, advise, and assist mission. The Marines will likely advise some units on a persistent basis while other Afghan units will see advisors on an episodic basis. Read more in "Combat Is No Longer Off the Table for Marines in Afghanistan", Task and Purpose, January 15, 2018.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Hitting the Drug Labs in Helmand

The Afghan security forces launched a major offensive against drug traffickers and their opium refining laboratories this past week. The large-scale operation appears to have started on Monday, November 20th. It involved the U.S. as well - especially in the form of air strikes. The reasoning behind hitting the drug labs was to target the revenue streams of insurgents.

Airstrikes. In a press conference held on Tuesday by General Nicholson it was revealed that various types of aircraft were used to include B-52 bombers and F-22 Raptors. In addition, the Afghan Air Force (AAF) participated with air strikes utilizing their A-29 Super Tucanos. The airstrikes targeted production facilities rather than poppy farmers. Three of the strikes were in Kajaki district, four in Musa Qalah district, and one in Sangin district. The new U.S. authorities in Afghanistan provided by the Trump administration has allowed the U.S. to increase the number of airstrikes as well as widen the situations in which airstrikes can be employed. The B-52s and F-22s likely flew from air bases in the Middle East (UAE?).

ISR Assets. Nicholson also reported that a large number of ISR assets (drones) were used to develop targeting data. Some of the airstrikes were weeks in the planning phase.

Opium Production is Up. The production of opium has increased in Afghanistan by 87%. This figure is being reported by the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey.

Read more in "U.S., Afghan Forces Target Taliban Drug Labs, Hit 'Where it Hurts'", DoD Media Activity, November 20, 2017.

See also "Afghanistan's opium production is through the roof - why Washington shouldn't overreact", by Vanda-Felbab-Brown, Brookings Institute, November 21, 2017.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nawa District, Helmand Province Now Under Government Control

One of the districts that continues to change hands over time in Helmand province has . . . once again . . . been 'retaken' by Afghan security forces. Operation Maiwand Four conducted by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) - assisted by Marine advisors and coalition air support - cleared the Nawa district of enemy presence and expanded the security belt around the provincial capital (Lashkar Gah).

The district, located very close to the provincial capital has been under the control of the Taliban for the past nine months. The district center was captured by the Taliban in October 2016. To assist the Afghan security forces the Marines launched an expeditionary advising package or EAP. This EAP from the Marines' Task Force Southwest provided advisory, air, battle tracking, intelligence, and fires integration assistance.

Of course, the term 'district control' is a very vague term. From a government (and Resolute Support) viewpoint if an element of the ANP or ANA occupies the administrative center of the district (usually a small number of one-story buildings enclosed within a concrete wall) then the district is under government control. From the Taliban perspective, the district is controlled if the Taliban can roam freely day or night throughout the entire district (except for those four or five buildings where 30 ANP are hunkered down). Learn more about the different interpretations of district control in Afghanistan.


Speculative reports indicate that the ANDSF have already started the planning process for Operation Maiwand Five to take place in the summer of 2018 which will recapture the district center, clear the Nawa district center of enemy presence, and expand the security belt around the provincial capital (Lashkar Gah).

The early planning process has outlined future coordination with various Afghan government ministries for the future government occupation of Nawa district governmental buildings in 2018. Coalition air support is being coordinated to move Nawa district government officials by C-130 transport and then by helicopter from their Kabul villas to the district center for a press conference proclaiming victory and a return of Afghan governance to the troubled district. The district government representatives will then immediately return to Kabul for extended talks with senior officials of various Afghan ministries about establishing funding mechanisms that are not hampered by the 'red tape' associated with bureaucratic and restrictive regulations meant to diminish corruption.

The Afghan Government Media & Information Center (GMIC) has their 16 July 2018 press release already scripted and posted on their website. Essentially it will say that the Afghan governmental ministries will soon resume public services, open schools, and that the ANDSF will restore freedom of movement on the roads and the confidence of the Afghan people in their government and security forces.

Not to be outdone the PAO for Task Force Southwest has already crafted the press release for Operation Maiwand Five's successful outcome projected for mid-July 2018. He has posted it in his 'Continuity Book' for his replacements' replacement to utilize in mid-summer 2018. It will read sometime like this:
"We have seen some significant gains in leadership and maneuver from the Ministry of Interior forces, particularly the Afghan Border and National Police. The ability of the ANDSF to conduct cross-pillar operations of battalion-size and larger provides proof of the abilities of the ANDSF to defend their nation. Defeating the enemy in Nawa means defeating the enemy in Helmand." 

(Okay, a little satire there in the last five paragraphs, couldn't help myself).

Additional Reading:

"Marines aid Afghan forces in recapture of strategic district", Military Times, July 17, 2017.

"Afghan forces liberate district in central Helmand", Long War Journal, July 17, 2017.

"ANDSF retakes Nawa district center during operation Maiwand Four", DVIDS, July 17, 2017.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

U.S. Army Casualty in Helmand Province - July 3, 2017

The United States Department of Defense released the name of a U.S. Army casualty who died on Monday, July 3, 2017 in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Private First Class Hansen B. Kirkpatrick, 19, of Wasilla, Arkansas died from wounds received during an indirect fire attack. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division based at Fort Bliss, Texas. Two other service members were wounded in the incident. Read the press release at "DoD Identifies Army Casualty", DoD, July 5, 2017.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Breakaway Taliban Faction Aided by NDS

A breakaway Taliban faction is being helped by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS). The NDS is Afghanistan's version of the U.S. FBI and CIA combined. The faction supported by the NDS and the main stream Taliban have recently clashed causing casualties on both sides. Infighting among Taliban factions is not a new occurrence; however, the NDS provided support to a Taliban faction is not a commonplace event. In recent days the NDS has been supporting the 'Renouncers' - with weapons, safe passage, intelligence support, and medical support. This seems to happen most in Helmand province which the Afghan government has great difficulty in controlling. Read more in a news report entitled "Afghan Government Quietly Aids Breakaway Taliban Faction", The New York Times, June 19, 2017.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Marines Set Up Task Force Southwest in Helmand Province

In 2014 Regional Command South West (RC SW) was dis-established as part of the draw down of forces across Afghanistan. While other regional commands (2-star organizations) were replaced by 'Train Advise and Assist Commands' (1-star organizations) the RCs for the 203rd and 215th Corps were just disbanded. Resolute Support HQs attempted to provide 'long-range expeditionary advising' to these two corps but . . .  well, that's another story.

In 2015 it was determined that a full-time presence was needed in Helmand province as the security situation had deteriorated drastically in that area of Afghanistan. A small U.S. Army contingent called Task Force Forge was dispatched to provide training, advice, and assistance and to coordinate for enablers (air support, etc.) when needed. In the spring of 2017 Task Force Forge was replaced by a Marine contingent called Task Force Southwest. Read some news reports about the activities of Task Force Southwest below.

May 24, 2017. Working Together: Marine advisors with Task Force Southwest hit the ground running, DVIDS.

May 25,2017. "Marine Advisors Train Afghan Soldiers, Police", Department of Defense.

January 9, 2017. Task Force South West - Marines Return to Helmand Province, SOF News.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Helmand Province Update

Helmand province has been the scene of a heavy onslaught by Taliban forces over the past several months. Most of the districts in the province are held by the insurgents. The provincial capital, Laskar Gah, has been surrounded by the Taliban and government troops have been on the defensive for most of the Summer Campaign 2016. However, one high-ranking government security official believes that the government forces will soon go back on the offensive and push the Taliban out from the recently gained territory. Read more in "Afghan Security Chief Vows To Reclaim Territory From the Taliban", Gandhara Blog (Radio Free Europe), November 1, 2016.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Helmand Province

Helmand Province - District by District. The fight for Helmand province over the past decade has been one of the most costly for both the Coalition and the Afghan government security forces. The British, Danish, U.S. Marines, and others have spent lots of money and lives trying to rest this volatile province from Taliban control. In part, this was successful until the Coalition withdrew its forces over the past two years. The Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps and various police organizations were not up to the task. In addition, the government agencies were corrupt, absent, and terribly ineffective in establishing government functions and providing services. Overall, the Afghan government and security forces failed. Now most of the province is in Taliban hands.

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) does a comprehensive breakdown of the province - with an examination of who controls how much of each district. The report is in two parts. Read "Helmand: A crisis a long time coming", March 10, 2016 and "Helmand: the chain of chiefdoms unravels", March 11, 2016.

Govt Retreat from Helmand Districts. "Overstretched Afghan forces are pulling back from violent southern districts without a fight, ceding key territory to the resurgent Taliban as part of an unprecedented 'strategic retreat' that has stoked fears government control is slipping." Read more in "Afghan retreat from key districts stokes instability fears"Yahoo News!, March 6, 2016.

Govt Offices in Gereshk Attacked. Taliban militants have attacked government offices in Helmand province. The police headquarters and intelligence agency offices were attacked on March 9th. (Khaama Press, Mar 9, 2016).

Quetta Shura Leaders Now in Musa Qala. Some leaders of the Taliban's Quetta Shura are now in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province taking a prominent role in heading up the conflict with Afghan government forces. Read more in "Taliban Quetta Shura Leading War in Musa Qala of Helmand"Tolo News, March 6, 2016.

Different Perspective of Helmand. Much of the news in the Afghan and international media is about the security setbacks that the ANDSF have suffered at the hands of the Taliban in Helmand province. However, there is another side of the story. Helmand province offers much more than just conflict. Read "As the Taliban Menace Afghanistan, the Helmand River Offers Solace"The New York Times, March 8, 2016.

Alcohol, Helmand, & the Human Domain. Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) were established to help military commanders understand the local environment - specifically the human environment - or human terrain - if that suits you. Members of the HTTs were usually more attuned to the human environment due to their professional degrees, work experience, and time in Afghanistan (most did several back-to-back tours in the same province). However, that is not to say that the HTT pros were not surprised from time to time. One aspect of working with the Europeans (in this case the Danes) is their realistic approach to alcohol in a combat zone (versus the tightly-wrapped, zero-tolerance U.S. military). I will say that with three military trips to Afghanistan followed by three consecutive years as a contractor that I had some preferences; especially after having worked with the French in Kapisa and the Europeans in northern Afghanistan. So . . . back to the news report - "Johnnie Red in Helmand", by Ryan Evans, War on the Rocks,  June 19, 2014.

U.S. Advisors Retraining 215th Corps. The leadership of the 215th Corps was horrible this past year and has since been replaced. Soldiers of the corps did not receive pay, food, ammunition, or leave as a result of poor officership. Military advisors from the 10th Mountain Division are currently in Helmand province providing additional training to the ANA. Read more in "US soldiers retrain Afghan army battling Taliban ahead of poppy harvest", Stars and Stripes, March 10, 2016.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Helmand Province

RS Advisors - "Leave Bases  & Attack". Resolute Support advisors are harping about the importance of the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) of leaving bases (a defensive posture) and going on the defensive. There is a certain amount of consternation of the lack of offensive operations by some Afghan brigades. For instance, just over a year ago a stroll through the 209th Corp base in northern Afghanistan would find hundreds of ANA soldiers planting trees and flowers - far from the battlefield. There is a disconnect within the leadership of the ANA. Read more in "Come out of bases and attack rebels, Afghan forces told", Pajhwok Afghan News, March 2, 2016.

Heavy Clashes in Helmand. There are some serious engagements taking place in the southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan. Both sides are suffering heavy casualties. Read more in Pajhwok Afghan News, March 5, 2016.

Sangin District Under Threat. This district in Helmand province remains a volatile battleground and the lines of communications from the district to the provincial capital are difficult to travel along. Afghan government troops are attempting to clear the areas along the highway but are meeting stiff Taliban resistance. Read more in "Troops in Sangin Call for Air Support", Tolo News, March 2, 2016.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


"What was the point?" Nick Paton Walsh, a CNN correspondent, comments on the current situation in Afghanistan in a recent news report. A pessimist gets even more pessimistic. Read "Afghanistan war: Just what was the point?", CNN, February 25, 2016.

On "Strategic Withdrawal" from Musa Qala. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have pulled out of two districts in Helmand province - one of them Musa Qala district. The power of the Afghan central government is on the decline and the Taliban is winning on the battlefield in many cases. Read "The retreat from Musa Qala is not 'strategic withdrawal'", Prospect Magazine, February 25, 2016.

Thoughts on U.S. Return to Helmand. One two-tour veteran of the Afghan conflict wants to know why we are putting 500 Soldiers back into a province that 10,000 Marines and others had great difficulty in security. Read "I see my old battalion assigned to Helmand again and I wonder: What is the point?", The Washington Post, February 27, 2016.

U.S. Options in Afghanistan. Anders Corr writes that America has three options in Afghanistan. Read his thoughts in "Afghanistan: Western Curse Worse Than Taliban Disease",, February 24, 2016.

How to Pack for Helmand Province. A Marine veteran who served in Helmand lays out his suggested packing list for those heading there for the first time in "5 Things To Pack If You're Deploying to Helmand", Task & Purpose, February 25, 2016.

Baluchistan. The low grade insurgency in of one of Pakistan's provinces (Baluchistan - just south of the Afghan border) has taken its toll on its residents. Read more in "Pakistan's Invisible Baluch Displacement Crisis", Gandhara Blog - Radio Free Europe, February 24, 2016.

Post Cards from Afghanistan. Showing the personal side of the Afghan conflict, Robert Cunningham, provides us with photos of the battlefield in a photo gallery by Foreign Affairs, February 24, 2016.

Pakistan Cooperative? Secretary of State John Kerry says that Pakistan has been 'very cooperative and very engaged in the fight against terrorism'. Ummmm. Okay, take that with a grain of salt. Kerry is either naive or thinks we are really stupid. Read more in an analysis by Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal (Feb 25, 2016).

Afghan Analysis by CSIS. Anthony Cordesman, one of the more astute observers of the long Afghan conflict, has updated his analysis of the security situation in "Afghanistan: The Uncertain Impact of a Year of Transition", Center for Strategic & International Studies, February 22, 2016.

"Where We Went Wrong". Mark Moyar tells us that when a military wins tactically then strategic failure is usually the result of poor civilian leadership. Read more in "Where We Went Wrong, From Afghanistan to ISIS", Newsweek, February 21, 2016.

Australia: No Afghan Strategy. According to former Army chief Peter Leahy, Australia had no strategy in  Afghanistan. The security situation is sliding backwards and the U.S.-led coalition is struggling to find an exit strategy. (The Sidney Morning Herald, Feb 23, 2016).

Australian Press and Armed Forces. A war correspondent, Thom Cookes, says that it is disingenuous of the ADF to claim the story of soldiers serving in Afghanistan is largely untold when it's the ADF that has kept journalists at bay. Read more in "Afghanistan: the war they hid for too long", The Age, February 26, 2016.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Expeditionary Advising" and 215th Corps

The Blue Areas are where TAACs are Located

Expeditionary Advising the 215th ANA Corps - Not so Much! A couple of years ago the United States rapidly drew down the force levels in Afghanistan. Keeping below a troop level of 9,800 required the closure of a large number of bases and a restructuring of the mission. It was decided to keep a small counterterrorism force, some enablers & support units (drones, intelligence, logistics, air support, etc.), and to maintain an advisory capacity at the ministry, institutional, and corps levels. However, not all the Afghan National Army corps were covered by full-time, permanent advisors co-located at or near the corps headquarters. The 203rd and 215th Corps were advised by an expeditionary package - called "Advise and Assist Cells" that operated out of Kabul. While this may have been effective for the 203rd Corps responsible for seven provinces east and south of Kabul it was probably less effective for the 215th Corps in southwest Afghanistan (Helmand and Nimroz provinces). History will probably judge that this attempt at "Level 2" or expeditionary advising was not as effective as hoped; at least not for the ANA and ANP in Helmand province. Recent news reports now indicate that a large contingent of advisors are to be deployed in Helmand province to assist the 215th Corps. Read more in "U.S. troop reinforcements head for embattled southern Afghan province", Reuters, February 9, 2016.

SFA Planners Guide. For those heading out on an advisory mission there are a wealth of documents to read. One of the better ones for learning Security Force Assistance (SFA) is the Security Force Assistance Planners Guide by the Joint Center for International Security Assistance (JCISFA) at Fort Leavenworth which was just updated in January 2016.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Security News

Instructor from 8th SOK on rifle range
Desertions and High Turnover Hurting ANDSF. Every year 1/3 of the Afghan National Army is replaced - soldiers exit the army replaced by recruits with 3 months of initial training. In addition, the army and the national police are suffering high desertion rates from posts where supplies, ammo, food, and pay are scarce. Read more in "Desertions deplete Afghan forces, adding to security worries", Reuters, January 18, 2016.

Helmand Province Update. Afghan forces are fighting to hold off the Taliban in three Helmand districts. (Reuters, Jan 19, 2016). In the meantime, General Phil Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, visited Helmand province and met with the newly appointed command team of the 215th Afghan National Army Corps. He had kind words to say about the new ANA commander; very little to say about the bleak security situation in the 215th Corps's area of operations. Read "Making a difference: ANA 215th Corps command team lead the way", NATO, January 20, 2016.

Insider Attack. Nine Afghan police officers were killed in an insider attack in the southern Urozgan province on Monday, January 18th.

U.S. Targeting ISIS. According to a recent news report the White House has given the Pentagon the legal authority to target the Islamic State in Afghanistan. (The Wall Street Journal, Jan 19, 2016). See also a report by Military Times, Jan 20, 2016.

Suicide Attack in Kabul on Wed. A suicide car bomb (or motorbike) went off on Darul Aman road near the Russian embassy. At least seven killed and twenty wounded. A minibus carrying staffers of Kabul Tolo TV may have been the intended target. Read "Kabul car bomb near Russia embassy", BBC News, January 20, 2016.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Helmand Province Update

Battle for Helmand. Much of the province is in the hands of the insurgents. The provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, remains secure but its citizens are worried. The district centers may be under the control of the government forces; but this usually means the government troops and police occupy a small compound of several buildings where the district government offices are located. Typically the district governor (DGov) and other government officials (MAIL, MRRD, etc.) are located in the provincial capital. Read more in "Afghanistan Taliban: Mistrust and fear in battle for Helmand"BBC News, January 13, 2016.

ICRC in Helmand Province. Watch a short video (2 mins) about the International Committee of the Red Cross activities in this very troubled province. Facebook, January 7, 2016.

Helmand Casualties. More than 700 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured in the last nine months in Helmand province. (Radio Free Europe, Jan 14, 2016).

Sunday, January 10, 2016

U.S. Special Forces Soldier KIA in Marjar, Helmand

Matthew McClintock
U.S. Army Photo
A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier was killed during fighting in Marja district of Helmand province on January 5, 2016. SSG Matthew Q. McClintock, age 30, of 1st Battalion 19th Special Forces Group was killed by small arms fire. His SFODA was accompanying an Afghan SOF unit in an advisory capacity when it encountered insurgents. Two other SF Soldiers were wounded in the engagement. One rescue helicopter was waved off due to enemy fire and another rescue helicopter was grounded with its crew in the vicinity of the attack due to fire received or a mechanical issue. Four Afghan Special Ops personnel were also wounded. News reports indicate it took several hours to evacuate the wounded special operators due to the intense fighting. McClintock was on his third combat tour. He had previously served with the 1st Cavalry Division and the 1st Special Forces Group. He leaves behind a wife and infant son.

News Reports on the incident:

"Casualty Report", USFOR-A News Release, January 5, 2016.

"Afghanistan conflict: US casualties on special forces mission"BBC News, January 5, 2016.

"DoD Identifies Army Casualty", DoD News Release, January 6, 2016.

"DoD identifies Special Forces soldier killed in Afghanistan", Army Times, January 6, 2016.

"Pentagon identifies Army Special Forces soldier killed in Afghanistan", The Washington Post, January 6, 2015.

Helmand Province at Risk

Map WikipediA - Creative Commons
The Taliban have passed on their usual winter break in Helmand province. Usually the TB fighters head to their homes or cross the border to their sanctuaries in Pakistan - returning in the spring for the start of the new fighting season in the April or May time frame. This year has been different. Many of the districts of Helmand province are under the control of the Taliban. Although the Afghan government claims to control some of the districts - this control is usually just the district center . . . a group of government buildings within a walled compound with 30 to 60 Afghan National Police (ANP) protecting it. The roads and countryside outside of the district center is a no-go area for government troops and police unless in large convoys. Helmand province is sometimes referred to as the birthplace of the Taliban. There are many observers who see the fight in Helmand as one between tribes over control of the drug trade and not so much as one between insurgents and government forces. Listed below are a number of recent news stories about the current security situation in Helmand province.

"Utah soldiers under fire in latest Afghanistan fighting"The Salt Lake Tribune, January 7, 2016. Teams from the Army National Guard's Special Forces are in Afghanistan. The death of an SF Soldier prompts questions on the U.S. role in Afghanistan. Are they doing "Train, Advise, and Assist" or conducting combat. The Pentagon says that the troops are in a 'combat situation' but not 'a combat role'. Read more in "Pentagon: US troops in 'combat situation' in Afghanistan", The Hill Blog, January 7, 2016.

"Washington Policy Leaves Special Forces Soldiers Flapping in the Breeze in Marjah, Afghanistan"SOFREP, January 7, 2016. Questions surface about the air support and quick reaction forces timeliness to relieve the surrounded SF team in Marjah district. See also "Congressman questions if Army Special Forces denied rescue force, fire support"The Washington Post, January 7, 2016. And, of course, the official party line is provided in "CENTCOM: AC-130 'absolutely did fire' in Marjah battle against Taliban", Stars and Stripes, January 8, 2016.

"Bagram F-16s Support Helmand Province Operations"DVIDS Video (2 mins), January 6, 2016. Aircraft based at Bagram Air Field provide CAS across the country.

Losing Marjah District to the Taliban. In 2010, the U.S. Marines, supported by other services and Coalition members mounted a huge offensive - called Operation Moshtarak - to take Marjah district, Helmand province from the Taliban. The Taliban fought but were defeated and moved on to other sanctuaries to continue the fight. The attempt to establish governance by the Afghan government in Marjah district - which the U.S. was calling 'governance in a box' - failed miserably. A misunderstanding of Afghan ideology is key to the coalition's failure to maintain control of the district. After the pullout of the U.S. Marines a few years back the Taliban returned. Read more in "A look at how the US-led coalition lost Afghanistan's Marjah district to the Taliban", by Heath Druzin, Stars and Stripes, January 16, 2016.

"A critical Afghan town, once secure, is now a Taliban hotbed again", by Max Boot, Business Insider, January 6, 2016. Max reports on a place that was hard-fought for by the Marines and others. See also "Much Sacrifice, Little Progress", by Max Boot, Commentary, January 6, 2016.

"Taliban Tactics Hinder Special Operations Forces", by Mark Moyer, Military History in the News,  Hoover Institution of Stanford University, January 7, 2016. Moyer explains how the irregular tactics of the Taliban have confounded U.S. security forces.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Troubles in Helmand Province

The Taliban have not taken the usual break in fighting during the 2015-2016 winter season. The snow has fallen but the conflict continues in several parts of Afghanistan. One area where the conflict continues is Helmand province in the southwest of Afghanistan. Only two or three of the districts of Hemand province are controlled by the government; the Taliban control the other eleven (?) districts. The Afghan government disputes this assessment; guess it depends on what you mean by district control. Sangin district is noted as the latest to fall -  although the government maintains that it still controls the district and the ANDSF are attempting to (or have) relieve(d) the small district center compound. The Taliban are supported by the Ishaqzai tribe who constitute a sizable part of the population of the province. The U.S. alienated this tribe early in the Afghan conflict pushing them into the Taliban fold. While the Taliban will likely control 95% of Helmand it is doubtful that the Taliban will take the provincial capital Lashkar Gah as the 215th Afghan Army Corps is located there.

ANA and ANP Not Up to the Task. There is still a large amount of corruption, numerous "ghost soldiers and policemen", poor leadership, a lack of coordination among the security forces, and a lack of intelligence. The western nations constant refrain is that the ANDSF are able to stand up to the Taliban - it is obvious that this is not true in some areas of Afghanistan (Helmand for one).

Refugees Flood Provincial Capital. Many Helmand residents fleeing the fighting have gone to Lashkar Gah but safety may be fleeting as the fighting is now at the suburbs of this provincial capital. (The New York Times, Dec 28, 2015).

U.K. SOF units were rushed to the province to shore up the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) - see a UK MoD statement confirming this. See also a news report by BBC News (Dec 22, 2015). According to the UK MoD the UK troops are advisors sent to the former Camp Bastion (now called Camp Shrabak) and they are not engaged in combat (Hmmmm.). There are about 450 U.K. troops throughout Afghanistan in a mentoring and advisory role. Learn more about the UK's involvement in Helmand province in "UK troops in Afghanistan: Timeline of key events", BBC News, December 22, 2015.

U.S.SOF. U.S. Special Forces troops are also deployed to Helmand - most likely advising the Afghan Special Operations Kandaks.

Strategic Importance of Helmand? Well, . . .  it depends on who is talking. The U.S. Marines, U.K., Danes, and a few other nations expended a lot of money and the human toll was significant - so they have some strong feelings about the importance of the province. The Brits lost about 100 personnel in the Sangin area along with many more severely wounded. The U.S. Marines also took significant casualties. How would the loss of Helmand province affect Kandahar, Herat and Kabul? Probably not much in the eyes of some analysts. The biggest loss to the government would be the drug trade revenue taken from corrupt army, police and government officials as well as local power brokers. The Taliban would gain a significant source of revenue and a secure area from which to operate - as well as score an important IO victory. They may also consider moving leadership from the safe sanctuary of Pakistan into Helmand province (or at least spread an IO message that this has happened).

R.S. Says Not So Strategic. Perhaps the biggest indicator of the strategic importance of Helmand is by taking a look at where the Resolute Support Train, Advise, and Assist Commands (TAACs) are positioned. There are six field corps of the Afghan Army located at Herat (207 Corps), Mazer-e Sharif (209 Corps), Laghman province (201st), Gardez (203rd), Kandahar (205), and Lashkar Gah (215th). The 215th does not have an advisory team stationed at the Corps HQs. That should tell you something.
Location of TAACs w/ ANA Corps

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Security News

A-29 Super Tocano
A-29's Soon to Deploy - Minus a Few Pilots. Two Afghan Air Force (AAF) pilots who have been training at with the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in the United States since February are now missing. While they pose no threat to the U.S. (let's hope) the AAF is now short two very valuable pilots for their not-yet-introduced and very-late-in-deploying counterinsurgency close air support planes. The pilots are probably happier washing dishes in the kitchen of a D.C. restaurant than flying around Afghanistan getting shot at. (USA Today, Dec 9, 2015).

USAF Mission in Afg. The Diplomat's Franz-Stafan Gady is currently in Afghanistan reporting on the ongoing war against militants in the country. His latest report is "Afghanistan: US Air Force's Mission Has Not Changed" dated December 11, 2015.

Info on B-1 Bomber. Wesley Morgan writes about the missions of a USAF bomber in Afghanistan (and elsewhere). Read "The B-1 bomber: The underappreciated workhorse of America's air wars", The Washington Post, December 30, 2015.

Kandahar Airport Attacked by Taliban. Insurgents and Afghan security forces battled on Wednesday, Dec 9th after Taliban militants stormed the airport complex in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. As many as 37 people died during the attack with an another 35 plus wounded. Some reports put casualties above 50. The insurgents wore ANDSF uniforms. (Los Angeles Times, Dec 9, 2015). See also "Afghan airport remains closed after Taliban launches daring attack", The Washington Post, December 9, 2015.

Insurgent Groups Duking it Out in Shindand. Rival Taliban factions loyal to Mullah Akhtar Mansour (recently wounded or killed depending on the press report) and Mullah Abdul Rasool have been clashing in a district in Herat province. Go for it!

Spanish Embassy Attacked. Insurgents mounted an attack on Friday, Dec 11th against a guesthouse near the Spanish Embassy in Kabul. Two Spanish policemen and four Afghan police officers were among the dead. The three insurgent attackers were killed. The attack began with a car bomb blast against the gate of the guesthouse. The US Embassy in Kabul issues a statement condemning the attack. Some Twitter accounts say that Norwegian SOF along with Afghan SOF responded, probably the Crisis Response Unit, to the attack. (BBC News, Dec 11, 2015). And "Fighting in Kabul's Diplomatic Quarter Ends, Afghan Officials Say", The New York Times, December 12, 2015.

Taliban Offensive in Helmand Province. The Taliban have made some gains in Helmand province this past fighting season and it appears that the fighting season is still ongoing. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have had trouble holding on to some of the districts in the province. Reportedly Khansheen district has fallen to the Taliban after weeks of seige and intense fighting. Read the plight of villages in Chah-e Anjir village in a news report - "Afghan Village 'A Living Hell' Amid Fighting", Gandhara Blog, December 8, 2015.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Life Under Taliban - Baghran District, Helmand Province

Life under the Taliban rule for the few years that they ran Afghanistan was extremely harsh. Recent proclamations by the Taliban would indicate that they have modified their stances on some of those harsh policies - such as girls attending schools. However, a glimpse of life under the Taliban in Baghran district of Helmand province will provide clues as to how the Taliban would run a future Afghan government. Baghan district is considered by some to be almost completely under Taliban control - the Afghan security forces have thus far been unsuccessful in dislodging them. Read more in "Taliban Present Gentler Face but Wield Iron Fist in Afghan District", The New York Times, August 14, 2015.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Taliban in Northern Helmand

The Taliban have apparently made some gains in the Kajaki district of Helmand province. This long-fought for area has been a thorn in the side of ISAF for many years and continues to be problematic for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The British spent a number of years in this district as well. It is also the location of the very important Kajaki Dam. Read more in "Taliban parades in northern Helmand", The Long War Journal, July 18, 2015.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gen Campbell Praises ANSF in Helmand Op

The ANSF recently completed a months-long operation in Helmand province. Much of the fighting took place in Sangin district. Observers had mixed reviews on the op. Many saw it as a "clearing operation" that is typical of the ANSF. Move into an area in great numbers, establish a presence, get shot at, mix it up with the Taliban, kill and capture some insurgents, take some casualties, clear some IEDs, talk to the local residents, and then go back to the big FOB many miles away. The end result is the insurgency is "disrupted" for the length of the operation and then the insurgents resume their activities once the ANSF departs. Listen to what General Campbell, commander of the Resolute Support mission, has to say about the Helmand operation in "DoD News: Resolute Support Commander Praises ANSF"DVIDS, April 28, 2015.