Taliban Massing of Forces Part III

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 12 months ago

The Waygal district in Nuristan has been seized by Taliban forces.

The Taliban seized control of a district in eastern Nuristan Province on Tuesday, chasing the governor and the police from the district capital, according to both Afghan officials and a spokesman for the Taliban.

It was the second Taliban success in recent days in the general area of the strategic Pech Valley, which American troops are in the process of withdrawing from and turning over to Afghan authorities.

“The white flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is flying over the Want district center, while some policemen of the puppet administration flee toward the provincial capital after slight resistance,” said the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, in a statement to news organizations circulated by e-mail. He was referring to the district more commonly known as Waygal.

The Nuristan Province police commander, Gen. Shams-ul-Rahman Zahid, confirmed that the police had fled their barracks and district government buildings in town of Waygal, the capital of Waygal district, leaving the Taliban in what he said was temporary control of the district. The district governor, Mulavi Zia-ul-Rahman, was also said to have fled.

“Police forces have tactically withdrawn from the district center early this morning about 5 a.m. following harsh fighting and due to lack of ammunition, and to avoid civilian casualties,” General Zahid said in a telephone interview.

“We are planning a counterattack to retake the district,” he said. “We will reinforce and retake the district soon from the insurgents.”

On Saturday, 40 police recruits had been returning to their homes, also in Waygal district, when they were kidnapped by Taliban insurgents as they crossed through Capa Dara district in the Pech Valley area, which is in Kunar Province close to the Nuristan border.

Analysis & Commentary

It is reported that the Taliban massed forces of up to 300 fighters.  I had previously reported that there have been at least eight instances of massing of forces against coalition troops.

In Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops, I detailed no less than six instances of Taliban forces massing from 100 to 400 troops for engagements (approximately half-Battalion), including at the fated Battle of Wanat.  The Battle of Kamdesh is a seventh instance of massing of forces, in this case up to 300 troops.

The Germans have experienced yet another example.  “Germany says three of its soldiers were killed and five severely wounded in heavy fighting with Taliban insurgents today in northern Afghanistan.

The German military said the detachment was patrolling near Chahar Dara, southwest of the city of Konduz, when it was attacked by militants.

District government chief Abdul Wahid Omar Khil estimated there were about 200 Taliban fighters involved in the attack.”

This report from Waygal is no less than the ninth report of massing of forces of up to 300 fighters.  It is noteworthy that the insurgents were facing only Afghan National Security Forces and not U.S. troops, and it’s equally noteworthy that U.S. forces at Kamdesh and Wanat were never overrun.  But the tactic remains the same.  Taliban fighters like to fight asymmetrically by overpowering their foe.  They want a ten to one troop ratio or they won’t face down our forces in classical battle – or it would seem in this case, neither will they face down the ANP.

It’s also noteworthy that this is generally in the region of the Pech Valley, something that only The New York Times article mentions.  We are paying a high price for our abandonment of the Pech Valley, as the insurgents have safe haven, human terrain for recruitment, an area for R&R, and safe passage from one region to another.


Taliban Massing of Forces category

Abandoning the Pech Valley Part III

Abandoning the Pech Valley Part II

Abandoning the Pech Valley

Korengal Abandoned, Pech River Valley Still Problematic

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31 Comments on "Taliban Massing of Forces Part III"

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A map of Pech Valley, for us geographically impaired:


Why are we unable to detect such large concentrations of Taliban in a timely and useful manner? I would think 300 men in the open is an AC130 crew’s dream.


Look at map http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/02/25/world/25afghanmap.html?ref=asia

Camp Blessing around 34°59’7.40″N 70°54’24.08″E (Google Earth)

Herschel I wanted to address something on this subject with you. Other issues that you have not addressed is the platoon size elements of Taliban that operate in Theater. Myself being an Iraq vet and my other buddies that I was recalled with, who are Iraq vets, from various units (1st Armor, 82nd Airborne, 1 Ranger Battalion) we were shocked on size of the taliban in Kunar. We got into a few fights in the Pech where we were engaging from our guntrucks sometimes an estimated 20 taliban positioned behind built up machine gun positions. The one that shocked us the most was North of Asadabad IVO of Chigal valley where were ambushed by an estimated 40-60 taliban last year. The initial Ambush was in Chigal valley (which was an RPG team and then a squad size element down the road) and then culminated when we hit main MSR heading back to Asadabad. On the MSR the pavement dips and turns into concrete (so runoff from the mountains can flow into the kunar river). They had positioned themselves defalate 25m off the road with RPGs then progressed from there up the mountain with more RPGs and Machine Gun teams. They… Read more »
So two members of the Afghan district leadership (in Kunduz and Nuristan) who couldn’t control their districts are now saying they were greatly outnumbered. Huh. What are the odds? Your estimate of Afghans as absolutely horrible soldiers and police, but absolutely reliable witnesses otherwise, is rather perplexing sometimes. Now, the two outpost attacks did have a similar TTP, even though the odds in both cases were more like 5:1, not 10:1. In attacking a defended outpost, we’d want similar odds if we could get them. Look, no question, if they want to try to seriously take down a defended U.S. outpost, they try to bring every gun they can spare. Common sense is not a tactic. What is a tactic is that this is still largely confined to the Eastern mountains, probably because the topography allows that kind of pre-attack massing. They couldn’t get away with it in the south, so they don’t try. As for Chahar Dara, that’s just the Germans in over their heads again… it was a standard IED-initiated patrol ambush as happens in the south every day or so, nothing fancy. Yeah, there might be 200 Taliban in the district as a whole, but they weren’t… Read more »

Camp Blessing next??

There is good trail that leads right to Nagalam and Camp Blessing from Wanat, the road is on the other side of the Waygal Valley built in 2006, runs to Bella and bottom of the trail to the defunct Ranch House.

COP Blessing was attacked in 2004, when it was still a ODA firebase supported by Marine leg infantry. The Taliban massed 200 fighters and over ran one OP.

Consider the kidnapping of the ANP recruits last week in Chapa Dara last week ( East of Blessing ). Wonder if the ANSF still have presence in the that district??


Shigal Ambush site- Dirty Mick

Just a couple of comments from an old kunar vet on Shigal , that was old IED hot spot ( if I am thinking of the same place ( south Shigal ) Dost Mohammond’s # 2 lived back up in the valley, they kicked him out of Shigal proper. Platoon size elements were not uncommon in 2006-07. I think they were local talent supported by Packie ETT types that ran crew served weapons. Everymans is an RPGer. We used to see the RPG volleys followed by AK/PK fire. BTW 25MM is close, Damn


The Empire Strikes Back,


–Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces concluded operations March 27 in the Darah-Ye Pech District after clearing known insurgent fighters and providing security to the area.

The combined force also took steps to restore the land that ANSF and coalition forces had been using for bases and observation posts prior to the realignment of forces in the Pech River Valley. These actions included the demolition of unnecessary structures and the removal of the debris.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the media recently about what our realignment of forces will mean for security and for the future of law-abiding and hard-working Afghans in the Pech River Valley. Some have asked if we’ve abandoned the Pech – I think this operation answers that question,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Ryan, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Division, Task Force Bulldog commander. “The Afghan National Army successfully assumed control of Nangalam Base. The Afghan National Army, supported by the Coalition, continues to pursue insurgents in the Korengal and Shuryek Valleys. Peace will follow.”

Hmm,Peace will follow

Sorry if my post was kind of scattershot and incoherent the other day it was late and I was worn out from school work. Let me elaborate… In the Pech they always engaged us IVO Matin village but it was always from across the Pech river (south side) so we couldn’t dismount and fire and manuever. The range was always 300m and farther from there. Postive Identification was always hard because they would always shoot at us from positions that had cover and concealment. So we always shot at avenues of approach, possible fighting positions, caves etc and cooridinate fires from COP Michigan or Able/Main (or honaker-miracle I can’t remember). In these contacts from the enemy it was always a two squad or more size element which brings me back to my original point… It shocked us a bit because in Iraq generally for the most part it was either IEDs or fireteams running around shooting at us. 101st tried fixing this problem by have preplanned fires so whenever units rolled through area all we had to do was get on the radio tell whatever battle space owner that we were rollin through and we’d get 120s and 155s hitting… Read more »

Dirty Mick-

Wow, that place hasn’t changed much, except we left. I spent sometime in the Pech Valley- same old hot spots, the area west of Able Main ( we called it Combat Main ) was set up to over watch IED Cliff. CC was hit in Oct 2006. Classic massing attack, a preview for Kamdesh and Wanat. MOH performance by the company ISG, he l was later awarded the Silver Star.

Shigal- I know that run off spot, it always gave me chills

Overall, I don’t think the ANSF can hold the Pech. Brave guys, but the ANA isn’t local, mostly Tajiks and Heraz’s. Don’t think their Command and Control will hold up in the terrain.

Glad you made it back.

James Harris

A nagging question comes from reading this post and associated notes: Why are “their” Afghans seemingly better than “ours?”
Do they recruit better?
Train better?
Better lead?
Why do we get all the drug abusers and baby-rapers and they not (if that is true)?
Their guys go to Sunday School more? ;-)



Great points. We are sitting on FOBs with the wrong force mix. Millions spent on high dollar projects vs small dollar projects that impact the locals. The only thing coming out of Kabul is the ANA, no backfill for projects/buildings that clutter the landscape, no honest government presence. Why did we think that a couple of our infantry company’s could influence the Pech. They did a great job in the clear phase of opns. But the fight became very personal. We have asked 18-19 year old Americans and Afghans soldiers to solve very complex problems.

We made commitments in Operations Mountain Lion (2006) with elders/locals in the Pech, Shuryac, and Korengal Valleys, then we left scant coverage to back up promises. Our local support was murdered or forced to re locate

To be frank, we just didn’t kill enough of the right ones and to many of the wrong ones. And left our new friends hanging out to dry or worse.

Sad- 88 Americans gave their lives for some terrain that we have abandoned to the Taliban.


Victory Point by Ed Darack details the Pech R. valley and surrounding areas. The last half of the book covers the efforts of 2nd Bn/3rd Marines in 2005 securing the area from the Taliban for the upcoming national elections. These brave Marines did an incredible job. It makes me sick to see that their effort appears to be in vain.


Thanks a lot Jean I appreciate brother.
Sando- I’m actually reading victory point right. It’s an excellent book if you want to learn more about Kunar Province

Herschel, you have two similar attacks on US outposts, which do indicate a tactic, and two completely unreliable and unrelated statements. To deduce a larger trend than the outpost attacks already indicated would be unwise. Here’s a tactic for you. Lots of districts in Afghanistan are guarded only by indifferently armed and motivated “police.” Just like in Vietnam, they trade ammunition and weapons to the insurgents for their continued existence. Every now and again, they run out of ammo to trade and go claiming to ISAF they had a big firefight and/or were run out of town by the insurgents. Can they have some more ammo please? Of course, none of this is confirmable with ISR or any other capability we have. We’ve sent the troops to the firefight locations, where not a casing could be found; flown drones over the district centres under siege that looked remarkably peaceful. And remarkably frequently, the number of insurgents in these stories is “200,” because it sounds big but not unbelievable. That’s your real insurgent tactic, and what I’d bet money your two ANSF-based stories above are just another two versions of. Outside of attacks on well-defended but poorly sited ISAF outposts in… Read more »

PS, if you want evaluation of the enemy’s likely tactics, I’ll stand on my own record, in posts like the one in Sept, 2009, where I wrote “Those troops in COP Keating are combat-ineffective. At best, they’re the equivalent of goats tied to stakes by tiger-hunters. The fact that they’re not on a FOB isn’t helping anyone.” That was two weeks before it was attacked with heavy casualties and abandoned: http://www.snappingturtle.net/flit/archives/2009_09_22.html#006540.

And no, I beg to differ, “outnumbering the other guy”, as you wrote last April, does not qualify as a tactic. It’s what you do with those troops that constitutes tactical judgment. The Taliban’s “best hope” does not lie with “outnumbering their opponents” as you wrote once… they’re not Soviets or Zulus. Their best hope lies in minimizing their own casualties (which in our own reporting has been generally exaggerated compared to the number of actual enemy casualties seen or found) and demoralizing/outlasting us, and that’s exactly what all their TTPs are aimed at. In general terms, they don’t risk large bodies of troops anymore except in high-payoff, low-risk situations, which is practically the opposite of your assessment here.

I can give you a good idea of massing of bad guys. 327 did a battalion assualt I think it was approx june or july of last year into the marawara district to retake the ghaki pass which lead into pakistan. which is just north of A-bad. Over the course of 5 days of fighting 327 plus other assests had killed around 200 bad guys (majority was the first day or two of fighting) and captured I believe 70. What I found interesting here is that when the Army or the Corp advertises these assualts into built up areas the bad guys usually fall back and live to fight another day. This time around they were dug in and essentially fought to the death. Here’s the article about the fight… http://www.stripes.com/a-nervous-night-then-a-brutal-battle-in-unrelenting-summer-heat-1.118593 Herschel, It doesn’t give specific numbers but I’m certian what I stated above is how many Taliban were out there. I can tell you there was so much fighting the first day that we cleaned out most of the PRTs ASP to give ammo to 327, loaded water, worked the flight line helping offload wounded, and the FAARP at Camp Wright went black on ammo for the AH-64s and… Read more »

Marawara&2-327th AIR today,


Six U.S. soldiers were killed in action and at least 15 others wounded in Afghanistan earlier this week when they came under fire while on patrol in a remote and dangerous region close to the Pakistan border.

ABC News’ Mike Boettcher was accompanying the soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division when the attack occurred in Kunar Province on March 29. They were patrolling close to the border when they were fired upon from three sides by Taliban fighters.

The troops were on a mission to show force in an area where the U.S. largely has abandoned small bases.

The heavy firefight lasted hours, with the U.S. soldiers and Afghan forces digging into a muddy hillside.

According to Boettcher, the Americans and Afghans killed some 50 Taliban fighters and destroyed a Taliban radio headquarters.

When the fighting ended, six American soldiers and one Afghan soldier were dead, with 15 others wounded.

At least seven Medevac helicopters were flown in to rush the casualties to treatment. The operation, called Strong Eagle III, is still ongoing, according to Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in a video teleconference from Afghanistan Thursday.


Dirty Mick

Did you know that the Russians lost a company in the Gaki pass. There are old Russian ops across the river from Camp Wright, going down the ridgeline from OP Nevada ( Not sure what they call it now) Local Talent did several Mass attacks on OP Nevada in 2005/06 but were discouraged by Big Guns. I am surprized that Marawara has gotten so bad, we didn’t have any sigfincant issues in that AO. Must be staging out of Bajur. I think the Pakkie offensive in south pushed some more fighters north. We could clear those Pakkie ( Bajur ) districts with one Brigade. They are above ground and operating in the open. No substitute for military victory.


I knew that with the russians. OP nevada is still called that and it got hit several times last summer. Taliban actually got into the perimeter and captured a couple ana and destroyed the ASP with an RPG. Currently the taliban control or operate freely in kunar west of abad in the Pech and Korengal (obviously) and in my opinion (i could be wrong) every thing between abad and COP monti. With the exception of the chowkay area, and COPs Fortress,Joyce, and Badel getting probed all the time south of asadabad was somewhat quiet in comparison to the rest of the AO but that’s going to change now since the Taliban control all the key areas that I stated above. Then it will flow into the Nangahar. Also take into affect the incompetence of the PRT in charge Camp Wright (it’s gotten worse from what I’ve heard through the grapevine) and Kunar is looking pretty bad.


Dirty Mick:

The PRT has to sync its effort with battle space owners and, that has always been an issue. Not much point in having an Navy Sub driver or helicopter commanding a quasi- Army unit at the tip of the spear ( thats another conversation).

We did some dismounted patroling behind Camp Wright, that back door is not secure. I am surprized they are able to sustain Naray. The MSR is very fagile. The area north ASMAR is nightmare terrain for any kind of convoy. Burnt jingle truck s littered the road.The CAV was too lazy to move the debris. That would have never flown in Iraq. We called it Gun Run Canyon. Lost some ETTs in 2007/08. Two gun truck convoy, ANA bugged out- three US KIA. All National Gaurd. Stupid


Dirty Mick,

How big a force do you think they have roaming around Kunar/Nuristan ? I think they use a heavy mix of local talent. Also that unit running around Nuristan took a big hit staging for an attack at Kalagush.
Camp Wright had better start considering some priorities of work besides hitting the chow hall (Sorry couldn’t resist that comment) we did some extensive patrolling behind the FOB, including local engagements. It’s not the protective wall that everyone thinks it is. You can gain access to the back of the FOB from the Pech Valley. We climbed Widows Peaks in 2007 (Highest terrain behind the FOB) you can see the Pech valley.


Jean, In terms of a force running around Kunar/Nuristan I’d say most element consists of locals and foriegn fighters that are maybe a command and control element. That story I relayed above where we got hit in chigal was what we found out later was a mix of Locals and Pakistanis. I mean if you look at all the activity over the past few years at Wanat, COP Keating, 327s battalion assualt over the summer, units on mission coming into contact with platoon size elements etc. I’d say a couple battalions of taliban or a Brigade at the least. Do I think they’re all actively fighting americans? No, but a lot of these could just get itchy one day and get a weapon and try to kill americans I can tell you personally my other recall buddies (about 70 of em) were spread out over Nuristan and Laghman with CT guard last year and where they saw the most contact was Kalagush and COP Nagil on the Laghman/Kunar border. I had couple buddies tell me they hit Nagil with a platoon size element a few times. Here’s the thing with Camp Wright. It’s a navy run FOB and I’ve addressed… Read more »
The Captain's Journal » Fighting in Barawala Kalet

[…] See Taliban Massing of Forces Part III for smart, knowledgeable and insightful comments from my faithful readers (some of who have been in […]

We did several patrols in conjunction with the Afghan commandos; we climbed the hill behind OP Shiloh, 5 hours from OP Shiloh to the top. Of course we found a shorter way back, also, found some their OPs or hides. Definite indicators that bad guys could put eyes on us when they wanted. We started patrolling to the west of Shiloh. SECFOR tripped up a single mover trying to lay 107mm in with a timer. Stupid ROE prevented an easy engagement ( may have been poor markmanship, there is a fine line between an AAR and a war story. The key to locking that back door is local engagements and patroling. I can’t believe they have surrendored opcon of the OPs, they were very effective FO platforms. But was pre balloon. We had issues commincating with Nevada. Can’t imagine it being any different with the other two Ops. The Marines had interesting base defensive plan in 2005 called the “Francias”, if we catch you looking at the FOB with optics, we will kill you. Our PRT CDR was ok, except he once got out of HUMMV at Matin to watch a firefight. History repeats itself the FARP blew 2006, but… Read more »

New skills Taliban:
a)Long Range Sniper Rifle
— Security forces found several weapons and drug stockpiles throughout Afghanistan. Operations resulted in seizure of 5,250 assault-rifle rounds, 5,000 .50-caliber machine-gun rounds, 1,650 pounds of explosives, 200 hand grenades, 150 pounds of homemade explosives, 21 rocket-propelled grenades, 15 Afghan army uniforms, 13 mortar rounds, 12 land mines, eight anti-tank mines, four rocket-propelled grenade boosters, four .50-caliber sniper rifles, three explosive devices, two assault rifles and assorted bomb-making materials. Troops also found 1,200 pounds of cannabis resin and 800 pounds of hashish.

b)Company size(rein.) night attack-HQN

c)Artillery fire support(I don’t mean mortar)
GEN.Campbell explained.
“We do not cross the border,” he said, adding that in many cases,
artillery or mortar rounds coming from insurgents on the Pakistan side of the border are targeted by Pakistani forces, based on coalition coordination.

Cross-border indirect fire has increased in recent weeks, Campbell said.

“Based on the number of incidents when [the enemy is] throwing artillery, they’re trying to clear the way so they can bring more people over,” Campbell said. “I think [the enemy is] frustrated, because [Afghan security forces], along with the coalition forces have really identified, now, the places they can come in through.”

The Captain's Journal » Taliban Massing of Forces Part IV

[…] and eighth instances of such massing of fighters, and then finally we’ve discussed the ninth instance of this tactic.  The Washington Post has given us another instance, mainly focused in RC East. Scores of Taliban […]


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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Pech River Valley,Taliban Massing of Forces and was published March 29th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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