The Border War Expands

by Joshua Foust on 6/2/2011 · 6 comments

It’s something of an open secret that Pakistan and Afghanistan are engaged in a low-level border conflict. But for many years militants have crossed the border to attack both militaries as well. Today has seen the largest such battle, now in its second day.

News agencies reported that up to 35 of the attackers had been killed. Three civilians, including two women, were also killed in the attack.

The fighting started on Wednesday morning after at least 200 militants crossed the border and attacked a police post in Barawal, a village surrounded by rugged mountains and forests in the Shaltalo area of Upper Dir, a district in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Shaltalo is near the border with Kunar Province of Afghanistan. The militants also destroyed at least two schools and torched several houses.

Interestingly, Dir has always kind of been a hotbed of militancy and hostility to the government in Islamabad (Lincoln Keiser wrote an excellent book about that very topic in 1994). But I don’t think Dir is all that strategic to the fighting that’s happening—rather, I suspect the police there were attacked because it was convenient to reach.

Either way, as the Taliban’s activities take on new forms this year it becomes increasingly clear that, in fact, their momentum wasn’t really “broken,” as ISAF steadfastly insisted the last six months. No, their momentum was shifted to other areas. And now we must scratch our heads about what to do about it.

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This post was written by...

– 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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RScott June 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm

And the statement of the Taliban spokesperson in the same article from nearby Malakand reminds us that the religious lead uprisings in these areas against central authority, especially those associated with foreigners, have a long history, as the young Churchill’s book on the “Story of the Malakand Field Force” outlines for us in the 1890s.

mgibs17 June 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

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Steve Magribi June 2, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Just FYI…what us Border people are hearing from the grapevine is that was an attack to cover the ingress of some new fighting units and equipment into Afghanistan.

Normally you do actually have “Pakistan” and “Afghanistan” units in terms of the Operations Area and Function. However this time, they massed several district units and crossed over to create a blocking forces on the target. This allowed other units to cross just above the position, and some people are saying it was also some heavy equipment ie. artillery and rockets.

ISAF as usual did nothing to check the reason for this movement, and whatever was getting in is now in, and ready to deployed in a support of this year’s operations plan.

There is always a story beyond the story here, and that is what makes it great but also incomprehensible to LTC A or Col B who is here for there one year “beauty” tour in a combat command.

In any case all the district units are now back in place, and ready to mass again on other missions. The new forces we are just hearing about and no one is saying exactly where they went yet. Probably on the central corridor route to stock up the districts just outside our “wall of steel” in Kabul.

More fun and games.

bat dong san June 2, 2011 at 9:04 pm

great post..thanks so much

Don Bacon June 3, 2011 at 10:37 am

Looking at Kunar, and getting back to HTS, there is an interesting article here on Kunar province: “Afghanistan has three wars at once. . .The third war is the least understood but the most enduring: the internal social and cultural battle between the urban modernizers of Afghanistan, mostly based in Kabul, and the rural, tribal, anti-modern peoples who live in the country’s inaccessible mountain regions.

“This month, however, the last U.S. forces will close their bases and withdraw from the Pech Valley. . .The failure in the Pech does not mean that counterinsurgency is a failed concept. But it shows that it certainly will fail — or be exponentially more difficult — when it is attempted against isolated peoples who have consciously opted out of the state system. ”

Johnny Matrix June 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Steve…what do you think of LTC Olivant’s comments? For one, I did not think the Safi’s to be especially provincial at all…he was referring to the Pesh people as ultra-rural and bucolic, but I never saw it that way.

Also on a more general note, do you see these recent incursions as a reaction to any outside pressure? I know you described this as a faint, but if you were around in 2009 you’d remember the Pakmil frontier scouts causing some issues for the Taliban and I wouldn’t think they’d want to invite that again.

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