After a long offensive in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan, Paki forces declared that they had seized a large network of caves in the Bajaur tribal area—a final militant holdout. This network of caves is just four miles from Asadabad, where I was stationed in 2005. While there are strongholds remaining along the border, at a press conference Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan stressed the tactical importance of this victory.
Around 75 militants were killed. These included Egyptians, Uzbeks, Chechens, and Afghans. Personally, I heard rumors of intelligence reports in 2005 that stated the Chechens were responsible for accurate sniper fire. Let me go ahead and conjecture that Chechens are also responsible for the accurate sniper fire in Marjah as well. The Taliban are a multi-national terrorist group, merely based in Afghanistan.
Nearly 450 militants surrendered near the 150 caves used in the complex in Damadola. They were stocked with supplies, blankets, pillows, and food. However, the bulk of Taliban fighters is believed to have fled the area in the weeks prior to the offensive—including most of the Taliban leaders.
A Pakistani spokesman stated that higher echelon Taliban leaders are hiding in Orakzai tribal agency and the Tirah Valley, where the Pakistani Army has some presence. Expect an offensive there within the coming months. Seizing Damadola was key because it is believed to have been a nerve center for Taliban operations, and if so, will siginifcantly obstruct the Taliban’s command and control facilities, as well as their ability to make war, at least until they are reorganized.
I have to wonder how this complex was used five years ago when I was deployed to Asadabad. We took incoming rocket fire every other day from Pakistan, from the very direction these caves were in. We responded with artillery fire, but it kept coming. We knew they were using caves, but hoping to catch some of the militants out in the open.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Taliban were able to summon massive forces outnumbering us three and four to one—sometimes even more than that, though support was close—whenever we would attempt to find their leaders. In a definitive fight during Operation Whalers, a company sized force of Taliban ambushed my platoon of just 38 Marines. The militia commander, Ahmad Shah, who is now dead, was responsible for the attack against the Navy SEAL team including Marcus Luttrell, who wrote his book Lone Survivor based on those events.
During the battle, Shah was seriously wounded and flew—yes, in a helicopter—to Pakistan. His son was killed in the battle. I wonder if he was perhaps flown to these caves?
If you’re interested in that battle, there is a book out by Ed Darack entitled Victory Point, in which I make a small cameo or two. It’s a fascinating read on the history of the area, command and control issues with coalition forces, and the striking outcome of the six day battle.
I for one am proud to have my part in the history of the area, and am very happy to see that the Taliban have been routed form this area. The trick now is to maintain that ground, and capitalize on the momentum ganed form this operation.