Now that it's June, the campaign season for 2010 is fully upon us. Not that the bad guys waited for June, they actually got started a little earlier with a series of high-profile attacks across the country just to remind everyone that they're still here.*
*Not that anyone had really forgotten.
First up was the 18 May VBIED attack on an ISAF convoy in southern Kabul, which killed two colonels (one Canadian) and two lieutenent colonels and their two drivers. A dozen locals were also killed in the blast. From the location of the attack, it looks like the convoy was on it's way to the COIN Academy at Camp Julien.*
*Here's a tip for the Force Protection guys at ISAF: your olive-green, armored SUVs festooned with antennas aren't fooling anybody, especially when you put three of them in close proximity in rush hour traffic. If you're going high-profile, then use an MRAP; if you want low-profile, try a beat-up Surf or a Land Cruiser. You can't do low-profile in a high-profile vehicle. Choose one or the other.
Next were a pair of complex, coordinated assaults on Bagram Airbase (19 May) and Kandahar Airfield (20 May). Althougth the perimeter was not breached in either attack, the scope and intensity of the action indicates a pretty serious planning effort from Taliban-central. In both cases, there was a combination of small-arms fire, indirect fire (i.e. rockets) and suicide bombers. By all accounts, ISAF security responded well and gave the bad guys a harsh slapdown. Nevertheless, the very fact that the attacks were launched at all bolstered the Taliban's claim to be able to attack whenever and wherever they choose. Tactically, it was a disaster, but in terms of Information Operations it worked out pretty well for the bad guys.
More recently, elements of the Pakistani Taliban pushed the ANP out of the remote Barg-e-Matal district of Nuristan province. Apparently, the ANP and ABP put up a stiff fight, but withdrew when they ran out of ammunition.* An ANA Commando battalion supported by U.S. Army Special Forces is now in the process of taking the valley back.**
*What does it say about the readiness of the ANSF when the ABP, in established border forts, run out of ammunition before the insurgents who just hiked over some of the toughest terrain in the world?
**If we were smart, we'd let the Pakistani Taliban keep the valley and get used to the world-famous hospitality of the Nuristanis. The Pakis would last about two weeks before they went screaming back across the border, dragging their dead and wounded. Nuristanis are sort of like the Afghan equivalent of West Virginian mountain clans- they prefer to be left alone and demonstrate that preference with an impressive talent for bloodshed. It's said that if the Nuristanis don't have any outsiders to fight, they simply occupy their time by fighting each other until someone shows up.
Finally, there's the so-called peace jirga going on currently in Kabul. Couple thousand tribal leaders, mullahs and parliamentarians from around the country (all personally selected by Karzai) are meeting in a big tent to discuss reconciliation and the prospects for peace. Of course, none of the bad guys were invited which sort of undercuts the theme of reconciliation a bit, if you ask me.
Despite the fact that they weren't invited, the Taliban made their presence known anyway by firing a few rockets at the jirga site and briefly taking over the top floors of the nearby Kabul Polytechnic University. A combination of Afghan security forces (there are over 12,000 in the city right now) and U.S. Army helicopter support managed to contain the situation, but once again the Talibs made their point by simply being able to launch the attack in the first place. Tactical or operational success is less important than spreading the strategic message.
The jirge continues until mid-afternoon tomorrow, so things are a bit tense in Kabul right now. Still going out tonight, but we'll keep it close to home and avoid the jittery ANP at the checkpoints.