Afghan Taliban hone hit-and-run tactics, assassination campaign
The Afghan Taliban is waging an assassination campaign against government officials in Kandahar. Their hit-and-run fight marks bid to draw NATO forces into a war of attrition.
The high-velocity snap of a bullet passing the lanky sentry from South Carolina was the first sign combat outpost Fitzpatrick was under attack.Skip to next paragraph
Men scrambled for weapons and flak jackets, running up the stairs to the roof of the pink cinder block building that had once been a police station. "Go, go, go!" went the yell to civilians caught in the open. Already soldiers were scanning the lush green foliage for movement. Then snap, snap, snap – more bullets passing by, and the platoon's first sergeant, Samuel Frantz, was calling for "203s on that tree line over there."
Within minutes, Kiowa attack helicopters arrived, swooping low in search of the Afghan Taliban gunman – standard operating procedure here. It might have been just another hit-and-run, but as the Kiowas circled in the unforgiving sun, a larger Taliban raid began against a base down the road.
The potshots had been a diversion.
"They've watched us all winter, seeing how we work," platoon leader Lt. Mark Morrison said moments afterward. "Wherever [the Kiowas] were at, they got drawn over here and that's when [the Taliban] opened up on Howz-e-Madad. It [bought] them probably two to three minutes to try to effect something."
In the half-deserted village of Pashmul, two American platoons in combat outposts three-quarters of a mile apart – pocket fortresses divided by a maze of greenery and mud houses – hold the line. For the soldiers, life is a hot, dusty cycle of tedium, guard duty, and sudden, explosive violence.
As much a front line as any in southern Afghanistan's indefinite war of ambush and improvised explosive device (IED), Pashmul is a spot where the Taliban have been stepping up the fight with bolder tactics and more frequent attacks.
It is not just the acceleration of the annual fighting season, although across the country the insurgents have telegraphed their intent with a string of raids and bombings. Here in Pashmul, they are trying to suck the foreign forces into a fruitless battle of attrition.
The "Taliban want to pull us into the grape fields," Charlie Company commander, Cpt. Duke Reim, said. "Slowly take a company from 130 and bring it down to 115. That's what they're looking to do because the more we focus here on the grape fields the less we focus on Kandahar [City]"– which, with its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, is the prize in NATO's campaign to protect key population centers.
In Zhari, the district in Kandahar Province where Pashmul lies, hundreds of soldiers from the First Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division are being replaced by thousands of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division pouring in as part of President Obama's surge.
On the eve of a NATO offensive against Kandahar City, Taliban fighters are intimidating villagers and using more sophisticated tactics to try to bog down troops in a war of attrition. NATO's focus is on securing population centers and delivering services.