An Emboldened Taliban Nearly ‘Wiped Out’ An Entire Afghan Army Unit Using Lethal New Tactics

A Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier, stands next to an ANA Humvee while guarding the Operational Coordination Center- Regional (OCC-R) during the Afghan presidential elections, as a sandstorm approaches, aboard Camp Shorabak, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Darien J. Bjorndal

The Taliban has picked up a devastating new upgrade to its hall-mark tactic: stolen U.S.-supplied Humvees loaded with explosives.

On Oct. 19, an Afghan National Army unit in the Maywand district of Kandahar province was reportedly “wiped out” when commandeered military and police vehicles packed with explosives —  including Humvees purchased for the Afghan National Security Forces by the Department of Defense — were driven into the garrison and detonated ahead of a ground attack. Out of a unit of 60 men, 43 were killed, nine were wounded, and six are missing, according to The New York Times. The attack only ended after U.S. forces called in airstrikes that killed 10 attackers, the Los Angeles Times reports; only two soldiers survived the predawn attack unscathed.

“The whole base is destroyed,” Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri told the Times. “When the clashes started, they detonated a car bomb close to the base, then clashes continued for a while and then they detonated another car bomb. They also had Humvees packed with explosives.”

The Taliban are believed to have stolen the up-armored vehicles after taking control of Afghan security or police compounds following an attack.

Driving Ford Ranger pick-up trucks, Afghan National Police head out to destroy an opium poppy field in Afghanistan's Dand district, south of Kandahar, last spring.Photo by Lt. Col. Russell Clark, New York Army National Guard

Based on regional reports, Taliban militants in Helmand may have as many as 100 such vehicles — a mix of Humvees and Ranger pickup trucks, and militants in Kunduz are believed to have pilfered 20 Humvees and as many as 70 Rangers, according to The New York Times. Dozens more have been reported stolen from the Urozgan, Badakhshan,  and Nangarhar provinces.

The most recent assault comes on the heels of two similar Oct. 17 attacks in Ghazni and Paktia provinces which resulted in the deaths of at least 70 people, including more than 40 Afghan police officers, The New York Times reports —  attacks which also featured hijacked, DoD-supplied security forces vehicles, including Humvees laden with explosives.

Prior to the Oct. 17 attack in Paktia’s capital of Gardez City attack, militants in Ghazni’s Andar district “drove an explosive-laden Humvee into the district center,” leveling police and government buildings along with “as many as 30 residential buildings,” following a string of smaller explosions, The New York Times reports.

More than 100 soldiers, police and civilians have been killed between these three recent attacks, all of which involved car or truck bombs on security installations followed by small-arms raids, France 24 reports.

This shift in tactics — from individuals or small-teams of insiders turning on coalition forces to the Taliban commandeering military vehicles as a way to sneak a car bomb onto a base ahead of a ground assault — marks a dramatic change to its use of explosive-borne cars or mopeds. And it’s just another indicator of how emboldened the group has become despite the imminent arrival of fresh U.S. troops to bolster Afghan security forces as they fight to regain control of the country.

In late September, a convoy of Taliban vehicles made its way through a desert region of Afghanistan’s lawless Nimruz province in broad daylight and over the course of several hours. Armed fighters waved white Taliban flags from sedans, the back of Toyota Hiluxes, and commandeered U.S.-made Humvees bristling with weapons, joined the procession.

The daylight attacks on government compounds, large gatherings of militants in the open without fear of attack from Coalition and Afghan forces — even as Secretary of Defense James Mattis loosens the reins on rules of engagement — come at a time when the Afghan National Security Forces are facing high attrition and casualty rates.

Afghan government officials told The New York Times that the casualty rate for Afghan Security Forces this year is on par, if not higher, than 2016, when more than 6,700 soldiers and police were killed and a further 12,000 wounded. In addition to battlefield casualties, insider attacks claimed a further 257 lives by 2015, according to a Special Inspector General Of Afghanistan Reconstruction report released in September 2017.

Related: Propaganda Video Shows An Emboldened Taliban Convoying Through Nimruz Province In Broad Daylight »

Afghan security forces are hard-pressed to stem the tide of an increasingly aggressive Taliban. Training issues — the average ANA soldier fires just 60 rounds on the range in a given year, and two-thirds of its recruits go to their units with only 10 to 14 weeks of basic training — and widespread corruption that includes tens of thousands of missing weapons funneled to phony "ghost soldiers" have compounded the issue.

In turn, The Afghan security force’s reliance on the U.S. military air power — and understandable reticence to exercise that power in city centers for fear of collateral damage — presents another obstacle, FDD’s Long War Journal reports:

Ideally, a Taliban convoy assembling and operating in broad daylight would be hit by air power before reaching their target. However, if the Taliban succeeds in overrunning a base or district center, Afghan or Coalition aircraft should consider hitting them as they celebrate victory and raise the Taliban flag, or as they exit the base with their war bounty…

While air strikes may be viewed as defensive or punitive, if the Afghan government wants to halt Taliban gains, the Taliban must be forced to pay a heavy price for massing and striking outposts, bases, and district centers. Hitting Taliban forces as they travel in convoys or after they overrun bases will force its military commanders to reconsider their tactics, which have proven successful in all areas of Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s ability to launch coordinated attacks on Afghan security forces compounds and replenish its supply of equipment, not only provides the group with propaganda material, but lays the groundwork for future attacks where the Taliban can turn the Afghan Army’s own weapons of war against the Coalition.

In the wake of the Oct. 19 Maywand attack, the Taliban seized seven vehicles, reports The New York Times, a mix of Ranger trucks and Humvees. Based on the events of the last week, we know exactly what they’ll end up being used for.

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