Taliban Attitudes towards withdrawal of ISAF from Fixed Bases in Kunar Province

Comment: The ISAF has made a policy decision to withdraw from isolated fixed combat outposts in Kunar Province, beginning with the Korengal Valley in early 2010, and from the Pech Valley starting in mid-February 2011, with full withdrawal at the end of March 2011.  The apparent reasoning behind this strategy is to free up troops for more mobile operations in sealing the Kunar-Pakistan frontier, and to react with airborne platforms instead of foot patrols to areas of perceived Taliban concentrations inside Kunar.  The lack of “boots on the ground” has led to greatly increased claims of civilian casualties as the airborne platforms used have been less able to determine the combatant status of persons than were the foot soldiers.  While the military success of this strategy has yet to be determined, the Taliban leaders in Kunar have been delighted with the political developments on the ground stemming from such a decision.  We present below excerpts of conversations that senior Taliban leaders in Kunar have had with Taliban commanders fighting in Kunar.

T.  Rahim said that the ISAF concept was that the ANA would remain in the area, but that the Taliban and ANA in Kunar have a protocol where neither would attack the other.  This means that the ANA is useless in defending any government supporters still left in Kunar.

The remaining US forces based in Kandegal, Pech Valley, pulled out in late March 2011 and removed to Asadabad.  This has left all of the Pech Valley under the control of Taliban forces led by Haji Dauran Safi, who belongs to the Salafi Network part of the Taliban coalition.  Haji Dauran now plans to concentrate his forces to harass the remaining ISAF garrison in the Manogai base.  Haji Dauran has supervised the establishment of a new shura of 12 men for Dar-e Pech.  This shura will maintain civil security in the valley, which they will enforce with a complement of 200 armed Taliban serving as policemen. A further 200 fighters are mobilized ready for combat afainst any ISAF incursions.

Haji Dauran has announced that he has made arrangements for the security of the schools and health clinics in the Pech Valley, and they should remain open.  Haji Dauran has placed a lot of emphasis on this point – not only has he arranged security for the schools and clinics, he insists that they must continue normal operations, with no interruption.  This is a significant expansion of Taliban civil authority in this strategic valley.

As far as the Taliban are concerned, they control Dar-e Pech in the wake of the US drawdown.  This is not how it was supposed to be, or even how some of the government supporters represent the situation.  The idea of the US pullout was supposed to be the ANA and ANP, but so far Taliban believes that the protocol will hold and that the ANA will do nothing against them.

Comment: the international press reported on 27 March that 40 Afghan ANP recruits had been kidnapped by insurgents in an ambush in Kunar.  The Taliban quickly claimed credit for this event.  They were passing through Kunar after having been turned away from a police training center in the Nurgram District in Nuristan.  The group had been traveling in four vehicles in the Chapa Dara District of Kunar.  Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, in a statement said that the captured men had documents, including recent police academy graduation certificates, showing they were police officers. He said that militants had captured police officers in this region on several occasions and released them after they promised to no longer work for the government.  The New York Times commented that the kidnapping came as the United States military had begun pulling back most of its forces from the Pech River Valley, a rugged patch of terrain once thought vital to the campaign against the Taliban.  American forces say the shift is in line with counterinsurgency doctrine to protect population centers, but the withdrawal from the Pech Valley, which followed the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearbyNuristan Province and the Korangal Valley in Kunar, bears the risk of becoming propaganda coups for the Taliban.)

Haji Dauran was in charge of the group which arranged the kidnap of the police recruits.  They will be released after giving guarantees that they will not work with the government.