IMU Leader Probably Killed in Takhar

by Joshua Foust on 9/4/2010 · 13 comments

This week, I wrote a brief piece for The Columbia Journalism Review discussing different media groups covering an air strike in Takhar province. Some things about it didn’t sit right with me (and still don’t), but a few more details have emerged that bear exploring.

The first and most important: ISAF probably killed an IMU figure named Mohammed Amin. The Long War Journal remains the only non-ISAF media organization I can find who names this guy, but ISAF recently put out a presser that identified him in passing while referring to some other activity in nearby Dasht-e Qaleh (which could actually be really good news, if they’re able to push back some of the IMU’s resurgence in the north—a continuing worry for this blog).

So it’s probably not ISAF spin that a previously unremarkable IMU figure by the name of Mohammed Amin got killed in Takhar this week. What’s weird is, I think that leaves my initial worry largely intact. I was concerned a few days ago that this air strike presented one of two uncomfortable conclusions: either ISAF had really bad intel or a parliamentary candidate was so close to insurgents he couldn’t be meaningfully distinguished before an air strike. I think those two conclusions remain relatively unchanged. To wit:

  • Who was in that convoy? Were they election workers with a single IMU figure?
  • Why was that IMU figure without his own entourage, or was his importance inflated?
  • Was the convoy in fact an IMU entourage, and Khurasani, the candidate for parliament, was traveling with them? If so, why?
  • Why haven’t other news organizations reporting on the incident, all of whom have access to high level ISAF officials, reported the identity of the IMU figure, Mohammed Amin? Is his identity important, and can we know?

… and so on, for example, etc. Only, ISAF is really digging in its heels on this IMU fellow. They’re still not addressing the civilian casualties angle, however, and this is where I get really worried. During the Shindand incident in 2008, for example, they did indeed kill some insurgents… they just also happened to kill a lot more civilians. I’m not sure a no-name IMU leader in a podunk province is worth killing as many potentially innocent people as seem to have died here.

Then again, if the people who died were not innocent—if, in fact, the governors of Rostaq and Takhar, long with this candidate for Parliament, were lying about or unaware of the true identities and allegiances of the people in that convoy… well, we’re in trouble if that’s the case.

The frustrating thing is, we still don’t know. And we probably won’t without a lot more investigation… and no one in Afghanistan seems terribly interested in doing so. What a damned shame.

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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 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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Reko September 7, 2010 at 1:37 am

I just visited Northern Afghanistan and after what I heard I’m not at all surprised if it turns out that candidate Khurasani was having a friendly meeting with insurgent leader.

At least in Balkh, lot of recent Taleban resurgence is seen as related to recent elections. Many of local taleban are reportedly Jamiat/Junbish guys turned Taleban. and they still endorse certain Jamiat, Junbish or Hizb (depending on area) candidates pretty strongly (“vote this guy or get killed”). Taleban presence of course prevents campaigning by “unwanted” candidates and it also makes it easier to stuff the ballot boxes on election day.

Some also say that Atta is trying to create “his Taleban” as part of power play with Karzai. So it’s open question how “real” some of these insurgent groups are, but they seem to be getting along pretty fine with Taleban.

So, many Jamiat/Junbish commanders and their candidates seem to be cooperating with insurgents to rig elections and there might be also high government officials involved. That’s Afghanistan for you.

I don’t know how common this kind of phenomena is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is happening in other areas too.

As some people predicted, we might actually see quite a lot of Taleban-endorsed candidates in Parliament after elections.

Anyway, in this kind of situation it really could be hard to tell what kind of allegiance these (probably armed) guys around Khurasani really had. On the other hand, you shouldn’t kill people just because they’re suspicious.

Caleb Kavon September 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Bottom Line…We do not know who they killed. This is the type of targeted killing we have been doing forever in this conflict.
End Result: Maybe one guy killed-soon replaced by another, no great tactical defeat for the enemy, great propaganda defeat for the ISAF as the target is debatable, and Afghans are just used to this haphhazard targetting. The north is being overrun this year. With no noticeable counter effect at all due to our sole love affair with Helmand and Kandahar-close to 60% of assets devoted to two provinces in this huge country.
The level of intelligence produced by the power point wizards at ISAF is horrendous. The Tactical targetting is failing, and the enemy is gaining. Time to change the game now and radically, or it is in fact too late. Too late for the Afghan Government, too late for the Surge, too late for the campaign.
Lost in Space is the only correct comparison to make. Twilight Zone would be too stable for the J2 crew on shift tonight-preparing tomorrow’s round of misguided missions and power point slides. The soldiers deserve much better, and time and most obviously money is running out.

anan September 7, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Caleb Kavon, 209th ANA Corps will have 11 combat infantry battalions by the end of this year, most of them with 4 combat infantry companies [ANA combat infantry battalions use to have 3 combat infantry companies until a year ago.]

Why isn’t that enough to win in the 8 Northern provinces?

There must be a large surge in ANA operations in the North. How are locals responding to this surge in ANA tempo in the North?

anan September 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Caleb, have you heard of any recent company sized recent Taliban attacks in the North? How well did the Taliban fare in these attacks?

Is the solution for the ANA battalions to split into Platoon sized maneuver units and embed with district AUP throughout the North. [Outside of Baghlan at least, where some company sized QRF ANA are needed.]

Chris September 8, 2010 at 7:37 am

The problem with 209 is that they refuse to conduct operations in small enough units to be effective against insurgents (big groups just make them fade away till the ANA leave) and they will not even consider a hold force. Much like the US Army, they want to run around, shoot Taliban, then leave. This pisses off the locals that just had their houses shot up and their fields burnt. Further, it makes the Taliban look lke the victors when ANSF/ISAF leave the area and the Taliban stroll right back in behind the retreating “infidels.” Everyone says, “Clear, Hold, Build” but all they really seem to want to do is “Clear, Clear, Clear,” much to the chagrin of the local people.
Until both ISAF AND the ANSF are willing to get off their cozy FOBs away from their hot chow, electricity, and television, and STAY off their FOBs for more than a few hours (weeks at the most), then the Taliban will continue to grow in power and prestige. They are the only fighters who stay on the field 24/7.

anan September 8, 2010 at 8:27 pm

“The problem with 209 is that they refuse to conduct operations in small enough units to be effective against insurgents” This is a standing problem with many ANA, not only 209th Corps. Many ANA don’t even maneuver at the bluck or platoon level. The incompetent mid grade officers don’t want to let the junior officers shine and make them look bad. 😉 Many ANA seemed to be organized as bde, bn, company, and Ranger [the squad sized force that can be fit in a Ranger vehicle.]

There are exceptions to this general rule of course where ANA Platoons operate independently. These tend to be the better ANA with developing junior talent.

Training Officer Selection Course candidates for 1 year or 18 months instead of 6 months each, and increasing the lenght of NCO courses from 12 weeks to perhaps 20 weeks [to allow concentrated literacy and technical training] would help facilitate such a strategy.

The strategy of spreading out 209th ANA Corps into a large number of independent platoon maneuver units, using them as scouts to simultaneously probe and engage the enemy in several places simultaneously, is risky if the Taliban are able to mass and launch company sized organized kinetic attacks. Where in the North are the Taliban capable of organizing company sized attacks?

Even if the ANA manouvers in company sized detachments, the number of ANA combat companies in the North is surging several fold. A lot of Northern villagers are seeing a lot more ANA than they have ever seen before. That has to have an affect.

Toryalay Shirzay September 7, 2010 at 10:48 pm

OK Reko,you are making good observations. Thus we are witnessing the failure of The US/NATO operations in Afghanistan due to incorrect understanding of the real challenge there. Is it too hard for the US/NATO to understand that they are out maneuvered by the Taliban master spinners in Islamabad and Tehran.Of what use are these farcical elections except to beat the US/NATO in their own game??!! And now,get this,we are hearing more and loader voices that the US/NATO are running out of time and money. So who do you think will be the butt of jokes in the annals of history?

anan September 7, 2010 at 11:45 pm

With all respect Toryalay, it is the responsibility of the Afghans, their GIRoA and their ANSF to win this war. ISAF/UNAMA/international community facilitate increased Afghan capacity [money, weapons, advising] and conduct combined joint operations with Afghans, but this is Afghanistan’s war. You could argue that Afghanistan should withdraw to a smaller ink stain and yield parts of Afghanistan to the Taliban, but the strategy and responsibility belongs to the Afghans.

Has 209th ANA Corps lost any company level engagements this summer? [I don’t know the answer to this question, but I don’t think so.] If 209th Corps hasn’t been beaten, then they haven’t lost. Perhaps it is time to risk splitting 209th ANA Corps into platoons or bluks, and conduct large numbers of small probing operations across the battlespace simultaneously. One advantage of such a plan is that the ANA’s lieutenants and sergeants are much better quality than the ANA’s Majors and Lieutenant Colonels. 🙂

Helmand is already ready for this, since platoon sized Taliban attacks are rare in the province. No doubt the same is true across much of the north. So what is the disadvantage of such a strategy? The ANA has many educated Lieutenants who can be trained in communication, de-confliction and coordination [to avoid blue on blue.]

If there is anyplace the ANA can give the Taliban a bloody nose, it is in the North.

If 11 combat infantry battalions are not enough for the north, how many combat infantry battalions does the North need?

Caleb Kavon September 8, 2010 at 5:10 am

The Insurgent strategy in the North is really in a beginning stage…They made their first successful insertion via Kunar to Kunduz…and now slowly into the other provinces. The key to watch for as they expand are the increase IEDs, signalling IED teams and logistics have developed, and increased small ambushes on local police units. When these signs are present more insurgent troops will be deployed.

Some areas are strictly in development now, others ready for active combat, and some are strictly rest areas, and quiet. This is a long term project similiar to that which they have engaged in Nangarhar where activity is up over 400% this year after about two years of slow development. The very fact that we have ANY activity in the North is worrisome and that Kunduz is as bad as it is this year is a key indicator of their plans in this provinces. Kunduz is the new Kunar, and they plan to expand from this base which they have successfully held for two years now.

The 209th Brigade is doing so far a fine job of town and city defense like they do a great job in Kabul…so it is not the issue of their lack of skills. Rather, the insurgents are just beginning in the the North and activity in Takhar is a new thing. The recent targetted bombings only bolster their propaganda wing…and allow the insurgents more room to recruit. The floods in Pakistan will bring thousands of new recruits to the Insurgents and next year we will see larger attacks throughout the country, but not in Kandahar where the ISAF has saturated the area and Insurgents are limited to harassment, IEDs, and small level combat with patrolling ISAF units…Thus they hold in place and expand elsewhere, similiar to the strategy against the Soviets, we can expect them to start hitting Provincial capitals soon, but only for short forays to establish a political point as Karzai continues to weaken in the eyes of the population and the foreigners.

ANA activity did take a great step backward last month when one Kandak was decimated in Laghman. This was not a good sign, and needs to be studied much more. Comando Kandaks must begin to operate independently now. There is no choice.

Each of these events are part of the Strategy, and the problem is ISAF strategy is not stopping the overall picture with its focus on assassination and not working with the Afghans and tribal leaders who we need to push the Taliban back.

Most worrisome is Nangarhar where Jalalabad is deeply infiltrated and the highway threatened for the first time in 10 years…The problems in the North are just developing now.

anan September 8, 2010 at 9:09 pm

“ANA activity did take a great step backward last month when one Kandak was decimated in Laghman.” Do you think this is true? Rather it is a demonstration that there are more foreign Taliban in Afghanistan than ever before and that they are able to mass and conduct highly effective battalion sized kinetic attacks. Don’t think Afghans take too kindly to Iyas Kashmiri [of Brigade 313 fame in Kashmir in the 1990s] demolishing one of their older ANA battalions in Laghman. It is likely to cause a nationalist backlash against the retired Pakistani Army and other foreigners inside Afghanistan.

One combat infantry battalion out of 66 combat infantry battalions + 9 commando combat battalions + 2 heavy mech battalions was routed. If the battalion routed was in 3-111, 203rd Corps, 3-215, 1-205, 2-205, 4-205, 1-209 or the commandos, that would be a bigger deal. If Mullah Omar centric Quetta Shura, IJU/IMU, or HiG had done it, that would be a bigger deal. Is what actually happened that big a blow to the ANA?

A major problem in Jalalabad are multiple reports of large groups of foreign fighters operating openly in the outskirts [some with hundreds of fighters.] If these large groups of Taliban are dismantled, it would do much to improve the morale of AUP inside Jalalabad. Why can’t this be done?

“Comando Kandaks must begin to operate independently now. There is no choice.” They already do. So do ANA SF A-teams. But there are only 9 ANA Commando combat battalions and they are busy right now in areas that ANA Chief of Staff Karimi, MoD minister Wardak, Karzai, Petraeus and Rodriguez think they are needed.

For better or worse, they have decided that the North should only get one commando combat bn, 5th Commando, and even that battalion might be used outside the North as the higher ups deem appropriate.

This means that 209th ANA Corps, its combat infantry battalions and its two CS battalions have to fight in the North without relying on ANA Commandos.

Reko, do you paint with too large a brush? Maybe it is better to break down which Afghan governors and district subgovernors are committed to success and which ones aren’t. There are ministries in Kabul that are active and motivated. Education ministry, Urban development, MoD, would be three that for all their problems are doing quite a bit. There are many ANA officers that are committed to the fight. There are many Kunduz police officers that are committed to defeating the Taliban even if MoI refuses to train, equip, and man them sufficiently to defeat the Taliban.

Has the situation in Kunduz stabilized in recent months? It seems that part of the reason for the surge in violence outside Kunduz [Badakshan, Thakkar, Baghlan] is because Kunduz is starting to see more and better ANP and ANA.

Reko September 8, 2010 at 6:12 am

I quite agree that “it is the responsibility of the Afghans, their GIRoA and their ANSF to win this war.” But I seriously doubt if there really is motivation in GIRoA to win this war.

There are just too many people in Afghan government who are in it for short-term personal/family gain. They don’t give shit about such long-term goals as building stable Afghanistan, they play to get maximal money and power now. Their long-term strategy is to make deal with anyone who seems to be strongest or take the money and retire in Dubai. Quite a lot of people in government and around it profit form continuing war. And this goes all the way to the presidential palace.

Of course there are lot of honest people in Afghanistan who genuinely hate Taleban and want to get rid of them, but I’m starting to doubt that very few of them are in government.

Chris September 8, 2010 at 7:52 am

Reko…You are SPOT ON about GIRoA. It IS their problem, it IS their war to lose, but they just don’t care. Get rich, get out. That’s the plan. My question is, at what point to we realize that GIRoA in’t going to win this thing and start looking for other alternatives? Right now, the people of Afghanistan are faced with the choice between the Taliban, who many have bad memories of but that do provide governance and security, or the ISAF backed GIRoA which provides them absolutely nothing except a place to send bribe money. GIRoA has failed. We need to understand this. It is not going to fix itself because it has no interest in fixing itself. GIRoA needs to be replaced, and quickly, before the people just roll over and accept the Taliban as the truly legitimate government of Afghansitan.

Toryalay Shirzay September 8, 2010 at 4:50 pm

@Reko and Chris, congratulation,you hit the bullseye. Now the question is this: is the US/NATO brave enough to admit this grim reality and act accordingly and boldly??!!

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