Have the Taliban Evolved? The Attack on Camp Bastion

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

On September 14, 15 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.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

14 comments on “Have the Taliban Evolved? The Attack on Camp Bastion

  1. If they are evolving, it continues to be in reverse. Good summary!

  2. tomwisk says:

    The Taliban seeks targets they view as high value. Those who carry out the attacks aren’t expected to come back. That’s not positive evolution. The idea is not to die for your cause but make the other guy die for his country (Gen Patton sort of) Wonder if they’ve read Gen Giap?

  3. J Holmes says:

    Hi tomwisk. based on their performance thus far it seems that the various “tali-vermin” are not aware of Vo Nguyen Giap’s ideas on guerrilla warfare or economics. The tali-vermin remain dangerous enemies due to their vast pool of suicidal idiots but fortunately they are not efficient. Their current strategy (by default) is to consolidate and maneuver against each other until the Western allies leave the area.

    • tomwisk says:

      Quote from today’s NYT has Afghani soldier saying that leaders hold soldiers back from killing Americans because leaders are cowards. See today’s (09/26) NYT. for exact quote and article.

  4. Andrew says:

    Once I saw a doc about the Taliban (I believe it was the Taliban, anyway, it’s been awhile. Pretty sure it was Frontline.). It was strange because it was a reporter embedded with a Taliban unit. All I know about strategy and tactics is from being a military history buff and playing strategy games. Not exactly the best teacher, but it didn’t take an expert to see how incompetent these guys were. It was almost comical, except for the fact that they and their ilk are now and then effective. They seem to be more fanatical than competent. Better than fanatical and competent, I suppose. Interesting analysis!

    • J Holmes says:

      Thank you Andrew. I think you are right. Perhaps it was that Frontline piece where they attempt a roadside bombing and nearly get killed by the keystone cop Afghan soldiers.

      • Andrew says:

        That’s the one! I sat there wondering what the reporter was doing imbedding with the enemy, but it was interesting at least. Gave insight into our foes, and to me at least demystified them. Not that I thought they were particularly competent in the first place, but as I said I was surprised by what I saw.

  5. Dave says:

    The Afghan enterprise began with good intentions and reasonable (stated) justification. Now, these many years later, we seem to be withdrawing without accomplishing the task of leaving behind a functioning government that, if not precisely friendly to us, would at least avoid the designation of a failed state.

    After all the blood and treasure that have been expended, was it worth it? Are we (and the world) better off than we were before? Are we quitting too soon or in the wrong way?

  6. J Holmes says:

    Hi Dave. I think that a Roman style occupation might have worked but that’s not something that we were willing to do so we should have just left sooner rather than pretending that we were dealing with a viable government.

    I wish we had saved those lives and spent that cash trying to create democratic government in places like Detroit and L.A.

  7. Big concern is the vulnerability of troops as force reduction continues. Some locals who may have been “friendly”, suddenly realize the soldiers are going to be gone – so it’s necessary to illustrate to the neighborhood they weren’t really “friendly” to the foreigners?
    Good post and appreciate the analysis

  8. J Holmes says:

    Thank you Philosopher. I share your concern.

  9. Hi Holmes.

    The tali-guys had nothing when we invaded Afghanistan other than their technicals and a brutal disposition. Sadly they just left the place to us for a while, knowing we would eventually leave, and when we do they’ll move back into the country. They’ll probably have better kit than they left with, too. In the meantime they don’t want anyone to forget them, so they carry out these pointless attacks every now and again.

    “Nation building” from nothing is hard even if you’re the most powerful country on the planet. And nation building in the face of easy drug money (in a country that loves it’s drugs to start with) is impossible.


  10. J Holmes says:

    Hi Nigel. I think you’re right except that I would say that the taliban types must vie for power and status amongst themselves. To a degree they may also be trying to keep foreign paymasters happy.

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