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.
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"They [Hizb-i-Islami] are extending their activities in Northern Afghanistan," says Waliullah Rahmani, head of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. "Nuristan is a key province for Hizb-i-Islami who are planning and implementing attacks into Badakhshan and other [nearby] provinces."Skip to next paragraph
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The eastern insurgency also includes many Arab and Central Asian fighters, says Kabul-based analyst Haroun Mir. These forces are interested in expanding into northern Afghanistan and even pushing into Central Asia from Pakistan – putting Nuristan in their crosshairs. It looks familiar to him as a strategy used by mujahideen commander Gen. Ahmed Shah Massod during the anti-Soviet resistance.
"That was the exact strategy of Massod – take the garrisons out of the mountains to allow free flow of fighters and weapons from Pakistan to Afghanistan," says Mr. Mir. "Al Qaeda is interested in moving into Central Asia too."
NATO pulling back from remote outposts
The US troops originally went into Kamdesh to set up a Provincial Reconstruction Team there, but those plans never got off the ground because of the outpost's difficult-to-defend location.
"The locals at the outset were happy we were sending soldiers because they thought we would protect them," says Robert F. Strand, a scholar based in Arizona who is an expert on Nuristan's culture and languages. "We lost support there because we never did defend the population, we just sat there as the [Hizb-i-Islami fighters] took over village after village."
Before this weekend's attack, NATO was planning to withdraw its forces from Kamdesh as part as a strategic shift away from remote outposts in favor of guarding larger population centers. Those plans have not changed, according to NATO.
But these various groups behind the attack remain a focus of the US and its allies.
The IMU – a key Al Qaeda group from Central Asia – suffered an apparent blow with the reported death of its longtime leader, Tahir Yuldashev. In a Monday report, the Pakistani newspaper The News says a Taliban commander confirmed that a drone strike back in August killed Mr. Yuldashev. Roggio says this mirrors information from US and Pakistani intelligence sources, giving him "high confidence" that Yuldashev was indeed killed.
"Without holding ground, the best thing you can do is disrupt these networks, and one way you can [do that] is to take this leadership out," says Roggio. "The reality is that the IMU still has a very robust group. It has roots in Pakistan's tribal areas and in some areas of northern Afghanistan, and it's still going to operate. It just may not operate as efficiently."
Hekmatyar unlikely to join political process
As far as tackling Hekmatyar, the Afghan government has floated the idea of entering high-level talks with his group and the Taliban. Mr. Rahmani doubts Hekmatyar would be interested in a political settlement given his past inability to work underneath others.
"He is one who has a very totalitarian mindset and cannot accept others. Because of that I don't think he can take part in any political processes in Afghanistan to share power, or take part in power," says Rahmani.