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Attack on Camp Bastion: Have the Taliban Evolved?

Attack on Camp Bastion: Have the Taliban Evolved?

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

On September 14, fifteen Taliban fighters dressed in US Army style uniforms attacked the UK’s Camp Bastion in Helmand Provence, Afghanistan. The attackers were armed with PKM machine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and exploding suicide vests. The camp has a perimeter of over 35 km and is a major logistics center for Allied operations in Afghanistan. US Marine Corps Aviation squadrons occupy part of the British base, and sadly, two outstanding Marines lost their lives that night.

Sgt. Bradley Atwell and Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, image from marinecorpstimes.com

Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Marine Sgt. Bradley Atwell were both killed by an explosion while counter-attacking the Taliban. We offer our sincere condolences to the loved ones of these two great Marines.

The attack is seen by some as something of a hallmark event in the Afghan War. Some feel that it indicates an “evolution” in tactics by the Taliban. The Taliban executed a well-planned attack against a large, well-defended position and managed to destroy several expensive Harrier attack jets, in addition to killing two Marines.

However, in my view the attack is not quite a hallmark event. While the Taliban demonstrated some ability to evolve in their tactics, one must assume that they use some of the abundant time at their disposal to think about their situation and try to identify opportunities. This was hardly a revolutionary combat event. The base has been there for years, and it’s more remarkable that the Taliban took this long to organize an attack against such a valuable and vulnerable Allied asset.

I’m grateful that the Taliban are not commanded by Viet Cong guerillas, Wehrmacht Panzer leaders, Imperial Japanese Army officers, or an L.A drug king pin. If they were, it would be hard to imagine them doing relatively little damage in exchange for fifteen of their own warriors. I’m grateful that few Taliban are capable of reading anything other than the Koran. If they were, they would be far more effective and far more dangerous.

The attack on Camp Bastion will have no impact on US or British policies in Afghanistan. The Allies are in fact already reducing force strength in preparation for a departure from Afghanistan. It’s not like they are going to leave a day early in response to anything that the Taliban or other hoodlums in the area might do.

Some analysts are certain that the attack was “masterminded,” if you can call it that, by the Haqqani brand of Taliban, which has been popular in Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months. Which particular tribal thug ordered out this particular cadre of suicide fighters is of no great significance because frankly, neither the US nor the British governments intend to do much of anything about it. What would the response be? Would the US military or State Department hold an extra twenty minute meeting with Afghan Gangster in Cheif Muhammad Karzai? What stern phrases would Karzai utter in that meeting? Would he pose for one of his cute “right index finger pointing to heaven while I grimace” pictures? Is there anyone left in Washington or London who could be so gullible as to believe anything that he or his band of thieves would say? I hope not.

My best analysis is that the Taliban were in fact not attempting to impact the Allied mission in Afghanistan by conducting this latest suicide attack. They were more likely trying to impact their own standing within Afghanistan and the region. Once the allies leave Afghanistan, the Taliban face the task of re-asserting their dominance, and they need all the PR help they can get. The Taliban would hate to see anyone else get the profits from those poppy fields.

In the mean time US and Allied military personnel will continue conducting operations against the Taliban and their many local clones while doing their utmost to appear polite and friendly to a population of people that care little about “polite” and know less still about “friendly” when it comes to outsiders. It’s a damned shame that more Allied soldiers and marines will lose their lives while everyone waits for the final departure from this very expensive theatre of the macabre.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Antonio Wilccoxen, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner, and fellow U.S. Marines with 1st Platoon, Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, Regimental Combat Team 8, walk through a poppy field during a security patrol from their patrol base in Helmand province’s Green Zone, west of the Nar-e Saraj canal, March 31. Elements of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed to Afghanistan to provide regional security in Helmand province in support of the International Security Assistance Force. Image from Department of Defense via publicintelligence.net.

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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

Bayard & Holmes blog at Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at piperbayard@yahoo.com

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