Local Complicity in Want Attack?

by Joshua Foust on 11/4/2008 · 13 comments

Eric Schmitt has a great scoop in the NYT today, talking about the attack on the Want firebase this past July.

An internal review by the American military has found that a local Afghan police chief and another district leader helped Taliban militants carry out an attack on July 13 in which nine United States soldiers were killed and a remote American outpost in eastern Afghanistan was nearly overrun…

As evidence of collusion between the district police chief and the Taliban, the report cited large stocks of weapons and ammunition that were found in the police barracks in the adjacent village of Wanat after the attackers were repelled. The stocks were more than the local 20-officer force would be likely to need, and many of the weapons were dirty and appeared to have been used recently. The police officers were found dressed in “crisp, clean new uniforms,” the report said, and were acting “as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.”

The attackers were driven back after a pitched four-hour battle, in which American artillery, warplanes and attack helicopters were ultimately called in. Still, the militants fought in ways that showed imaginative military training, if not sophisticated weapons.

They still list the town as “Wanat,” though the NYT now at least says it is in Nuristan (it is the district center of Waygal district, which is centered on the Waygal river valley, host to much of the academic work in Nuristan). Anyway, the whole area is very pretty and clearly offers lots of chances for insurgents to move around and set up kill zones.

But is that all the evidence they have? Suspiciously new-looking weapons after a fight in which all the police were reported to have fled? No evidence of the weapons being used or storied by the Taliban?

I don’t know. I’m not there, and I’m not in charge, and I really don’t have all the data, but that seems pretty thin to me—and certainly not enough, without other evidence, to indict the local COP of complicity in the attack. Especially when Tamim Nuristani, the former governor of Nuristan, had just been sacked for complaining about U.S.-inflicted civilian casualties in the area.

It is also interesting to see the warnings of an imminent attack downplayed. We knew that right off the bat, thanks to the work of David Tate. Interesting that that sort of data was classified when it was already in the open. But that’s a different issue.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 13 comments }

David November 4, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Kudos to Eric Schmitt for this report but the article doesn’t offer much support for the headline.

This report appears to be an effort to direct focus towards factors over which our military has little control and away from the chain of command. That it was declassified so that it could be shared with the families of the soldiers who were killed suggests that the families may be clamoring for the commanders to be held accountable.

The report mentions that large stocks of weapons and ammunition were found in police headquarters apparently beyond what was needed for the contingent there. It would have been easy enough for the investigators to determine whether this stuff was coming from Interior Ministry stores.

Want’s police station had come under attack in June 2007 and was overrun briefly. So it’s possible that the Interior Ministry sent out weapons and ammunition adequate for another such attack and this is what the investigators came across.

As for dirty weapons: that suggests nothing other than that they are in the possession of poorly trained and disciplined police who don’t keep their weapons in good order.

And if the police chief and the district administrator were thought at all culpable then they would have been detained more than just a couple of days.

Our military isn’t timid about PUCing and interrogating government officials who are complicit with the insurgents.

As for the suspicious irrigation channel that was filled with water to mask the sounds of advancing fighters, were the insurgents approaching in noisy tanks and APCs? One of the first things that any FOB or patrol base will have will be a military-strength generator that produces massive amounts of noise that masks all noise.

Moreover, Want is located at the confluence of two mountain streams the produce plenty of noise.

And how much noise do fighters on foot carrying light weapons make?

As for not expecting an attack, Want was struck on July 13th. That’s about a week after there was an airstrike on a few civilian vehicles that were heading down the Waygal valley road from the post at Bella that had been evacuated. The reason that the civilians who were killed were fleeing was because our military had warned them that bad guys were in the area and our military expected that there would be a significant operation in the valley.

The list published by RAWA of those who were killed in the July 4, 2008 incident has been verified by a reliable source as accurate.

http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2008/07/16/the-massacre-at-aranas-on-the-waygal-river-nuristan-province.html?e=http:/amyru.h18.ru/images/cs.txt?

The July 4 incident sparked a lot of local anger and reliable sources suggest that this may have been a factor in the population at Want being less than forthcoming with reporting the presence of insurgents gathering in preparation for the July 13 attack.

Also, the NY Times doesn’t quite get Want’s location right. While he doesn’t state that it’s in Kunar, Schmitt does describe Haji Abdul Halim as the acting governor of “nearby Nuristan province.” Halim was deputy governor of Nuristan province at the time of the July incidents and is acting governor because the governor who replaced Tamim Nuristani was killed in an auto accident.

It will be important for knowledgeable and independent analysts to examine the report that Schmitt references to evaluate the evidence. If I were a family member of one of the soldiers lost in this incident, the report, or at least what Schmitt presents from it would not be compelling.

Joshua Foust November 5, 2008 at 12:06 am

David,

“It will be important for knowledgeable and independent analysts to examine the report that Schmitt references to evaluate the evidence. If I were a family member of one of the soldiers lost in this incident, the report, or at least what Schmitt presents from it would not be compelling.”

That was sort of my point. If I find the report (or if any enterprising reader wants to send it to me), I will absolutely pick through it page by page.

Chris Merriman November 5, 2008 at 5:16 am

FFS, oyun back again. Is some sort of site wide IP/url entered ban not possible? Given that this is a WordPress blog, would Bad Behaviour or Spam Karma not maybe block this crap? In case your local techy is on holiday or something, I’m happy to offer my time/assistance.
Sorry for another OT comment again, but I’m sure there are better ways to handle this spammer…

Joshua Foust November 5, 2008 at 5:20 am

I thought we had taught Spam Karma to take care of it. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.

David November 5, 2008 at 9:49 am

Apologies for inserting a url and for raising blood pressure unnecessarily.

The intent was to direct interested readers to pertinent but obscure information.

Desiring only to contribute to the important discussions hosted here, and having no interest in being a flamee, it won’t happen again.

Joshua Foust November 5, 2008 at 10:31 am

David,

I don’t think you raised anyone’s blood pressure. There is a spam program I’ve had little success in trying to block. I’ve linked to the RAWA report on Aranas a couple of times — it’s over heated, but not deceptive. I think it’s good to see that there are people who passionately care about civilian casualties — it is a sentiment oddly missing from most of the discourse on Afghanistan.

Chris Merriman November 5, 2008 at 2:44 pm

(Just to reiterate David, my comments weren’t directed at you __at all__ . There was a spammy comment before mine, that has now been removed.)

ND November 5, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Just a few notes on the above article and comments. Wanat is technically in Kunar Province (Manogay District), but owing to the Waygal Valley’s (and specifically Waygal Village’s) inaccessibility and Wanat’s presence along a trafficable road in Nuristani tribal areas, it serves as the District Center for the Waygal District of Nuristan Province. In addition, Tamim Nuristani was not killed in a car crash. He was removed shortly before the Wanat incident and replaced by Hazrat Din Noor whom was then killed in a car accident between Kabul and Laghman Provinces. Wali Tamim is still living in his personal fiefdom of Paruns or perhaps planning a return to his Virginia Chicken restaurants.

David November 5, 2008 at 9:42 pm

ND,

Thanks for your comments.

Want is in Waygal district.

The boundary between provinces which more or less runs east-west perpendicular to the Waygal river has historically delineated the areas controlled by the Pashtuns and the Nuristanis. It lies more than a kilometer south of Want. (Any Nuristani from the region can point out precisely where the boundary lies between the lands controlled by the Pashtuns and those controlled by the Nuristanis.)

In this regard, the AIMS maps are in error as they are for many other places in the country.

The people who have traditionally lived and farmed in Want are kin to the Nuristani dwellers in the village of Kun-kelli (which is called Akun (and also Chimi) in Kalasa-ala, the language of the Nuristani people of the region.) Corporately Want was not an independent community but a satellite of Akun. Those who had fields in the Want area shared corporate control of summer pastures and other higher altitude pastoral resources with their kin who resided year-round in Akun.

Given that the boundaries between Kunar and Nuristan provinces were delineated based roughly on which population laid claim to which territory, Want is in Nuristan province’s Waygal district.

The only other place in the Waygal valley where there has ever been a presence of the central government was shortly after the Kafir’s conversion when there was a small government outpost high on a ridge to the northwest of the small hamlet of Muldesh, north of Want on the east side of the Waygal river.

The two corporate communities that constitute the northernmost population concentration in the valley at what is mistakenly called Waygal village has never been location for an administrative center for the district.

And as for Tamim, a few points: My comments did not state that he was killed in an accident. Also, his restaurants were pizza (not chicken) restaurants in the Sacramento area. His daughter is living with his mother in northern Virginia.

And there is no such place as Paruns. The U.S. military gets confused between the Parun valley and the community which has frequently been transliterated into European languages as ‘Pronz.’ Pronz is the next to last village at the far north end of the Parun valley while the provincial center is located south of Pashki which is the most southernly of the villages occupied by the people who speak the Wasi language. If Tamim is living in the Parun valley it’s likely near the government, and not in Pronz.

The confusion between Parun and ‘Paruns’ has led to the Army Corps of Engineers to design a road that was supposed to link eastern Nuristan to the provincial center. The terminus point for that planned road was in ‘Paruns,’ (70 degrees 55′ 15.56″ E, 35 degrees 25′ 10.34″ N) which foolishly meant that the road terminated many kilometers North of the provincial center south of Pashki. Some sources indicate that the Corps has terminated that contract for a road which was idiotic in concept.

A single ‘s’ can make a big difference.

Such apparently trivial errors are nearly impossible to rectify once the military has incorrectly identified a place by its wrong name.

Anonymous November 6, 2008 at 10:55 am

It seems to me as though everything was in place to avoid the mistake relating to the Corps of Engineers’ road. There was a lat-long for where they intended to contract the road to, so it should have been easy to check that this lat-long was in the right place. Such a check seems especially important when the proposed terminus is in an area where there’s a difference between what’s seen on the map, what’s actually on the ground, and what’s commonly said out loud by the people involved. Such a mistake is pretty egregious — there should be some smart people with extensive local knowledge stationed in the PRTs to spot pitfalls like this.

Joshua Foust November 6, 2008 at 11:04 am

Anonymous: sometimes they do. Too often, they don’t.

Chris Merriman November 6, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Oh how nice, someone else (cizgi film) is now using the same piece of software as oyun. The WordPress plugin “Bad Behaviour” might block such rubbish, especially if these spammy comments are not being created manually, please do contact me if you need a hand.
I know I don’t leave many (post related) comments here at Registan, but I do enjoy reading.

Nathan November 6, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Chris, thanks. I’m using Spam Karma 2, which usually works wonderfully. What I’ve noticed with these is that SK2 is creating whitelist and blacklist entries for info in the comments. This seems to be allowing them to come through. I’m starting to play around with some of the settings — increasing the importance of the blacklist, for one — and combing through the whitelist entries to try to eliminate this. It’s starting to catch some of this stuff.

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