Friday, June 4, 2010

Afghan Commandos Retook District of Barg-e-Matal in Nuristan Province

Afghan commandos, backed by Coalition advisers and air support, have retaken a district in eastern Afghanistan that had been captured by the Taliban last weekend.

More than 200 Afghan commandos “assisted by a small contingent of coalition partners” retook the district of Barg-e-Matal in Nuristan province yesterday, the International Security Assistance Force said in a press release. The district was recaptured just two days after Afghan police abandoned Barg-e-Matal as part of a “tactical retreat” to avoid civilian casualties.

The operation to retake the district began early on May 31, when Coalition air support engaged the Taliban with “precision-guided airstrikes on known insurgent locations near Barg-e-Matal,” ISAF stated in a press release.

“The airstrikes were requested by local officials and ANSF [Afghan National Security Force] commanders,” ISAF said. “Extreme care was given to validating the targets, which were under surveillance for an extended period of time.

The operation was launched in response to significant insurgent activity in the area during the previous week. The precision strikes were designed to degrade enemy positions, command and control, and staging/caches sites in the area.”

The airstrikes were followed by an air assault by Afghan commandos, who linked up with more than 400 local police in the region, The Associated Press reported. No Taliban casualties were reported in the airstrikes or the subsequent commando operation to retake the district.

"This successful operation by Afghan forces will return governance to Barg-e-Matal," said Zemarai Bashary, the Ministry of Interior spokesman. "This operation shows the improved planning and operational capabilities of our joint forces in response to serious incidents even in the most remote locations of Afghanistan."

The crisis in Nuristan began on May 25, when a large Taliban force estimated at between 300 to 500 fighters attacked the district center. Afghan officials said the Taliban were supported by Pakistani, Chechens, and other Central Asian fighters.

Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Qari Fazlullah, who is known to shelter and operate in Nuristan, is said to have led the attack. Fazlullah was later reported killed, but the Taliban denied the report and said he was not involved in any fighting in Nuristan.

The Barg-e-Matal district is a known Taliban transit area to and from the northern Pakistani district of Chitral. Last summer, the Taliban took control of Barg-e-Matal for several months after a similar attack. US and Afghan forces were deployed to the region to help local Nuristanis eject the Taliban, but the forces later withdrew.

Barg-e-Matal borders the district of Kamdesh, which has been under Taliban control since US forces withdrew from combat outposts last fall after an attack by a large Taliban and al Qaeda force. The withdrawal of US forces from the outposts in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province has provided the Taliban with major propaganda victories.

The Taliban released propaganda tapes showing large-scale assaults on the US outposts followed by scenes of the Taliban occupying the abandoned bases. Weapons and ammunition that had been hastily abandoned by US and Afghan forces were displayed by the Taliban in the tapes.

Since last fall, ISAF began withdrawing forces from remote districts in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province as part of its new counterinsurgency plan that emphasizes securing major population centers over rural areas. According to ISAF commanders, the remote provinces of Nuristan and Kunar will be dealt with after more strategic regions in the south, east, and north have been addressed.

The outposts in Nuristan and Kunar were initially created in 2006 as part of a plan to establish a string of bases to interdict Taliban fighters and supplies moving across the border from Pakistan. But the plan was not completed, because US forces were diverted to the south in Kandahar after the Taliban began launching increasingly sophisticated attacks.

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