Deadly Afghanistan attack: It wasn't just the Taliban
The Taliban combined with an Al Qaeda-linked militant group and others to kill eight US soldiers in northeastern Afghanistan Sunday. The Taliban's flexibility is a major threat to US forces.
The major ground assault by militants that killed eight US soldiers in Afghanistan this weekend illustrates nimble cooperation between the Taliban and smaller groups, according to NATO and regional security analysts. The ability of this militant medley to plug-and-play their fighters into larger forces, then disperse again into smaller groups, represents a major challenge to the US-led coalition.Skip to next paragraph
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"I think not enough credit is given that these groups operate together. I am not saying these guys have a hierarchal structural command like the US military does. But they do operate together when required," says Bill Roggio, managing editor of The Long War Journal.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack on a pair of remote US military outposts in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan Province, located in northeastern Afghanistan. But NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay told the Associated Press that the fighters also included tribal militias and forces under Al Qaeda-linked commander in Pakistan, Siraj Haqqani. (Read more about the Haqqani network here.)
Mr. Roggio says that the battle, which also killed two Afghan soldiers, involved a reconstituted Brigade 055 – Al Qaeda fighters from around the Muslim world, particularly the Middle East and Central Asia, who fought alongside the Taliban at Tora Bora and Operation Anaconda. These fighters both embed with Taliban units to conduct training – much like NATO forces do with the Afghan Army – as well as come together to help fight in major battles.
"There's no way that local tribal militia are carrying out an attack of this sophistication," says Roggio. Instead, different groups contribute seasoned fighters at the request of a local commander such as Dost Mohammed, the Afghan Taliban's shadow governor for the province.
A militant crossroads
In this neck of the woods, many groups could contribute. Nuristan Province is one of the country's least accessible, and conversely, a crossroads between overlapping militant groups. It is also seen as a corridor between Central Asia and Pakistani tribal hideouts for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Al Qaeda. One of the biggest players remains Hizb-i-Islami, the militant group run by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Read more about Hekmatyar and the Taliban umbrella he falls under here.)