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.

Russia to Build Naval Base in Cuba: An Intelligence Perspective

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

On Thursday, July 26, news outlets reported that Russia announced intentions to build military bases in Vietnam, the Seychelles, and Cuba. The source of the news was an interview given by Russian Vice Admiral Victor Chirkov to the Russian IRA Novosti news network.

Map courtesy of the CIA

The Russian Defense Ministry subsequently denied that Chirkov had ever discussed anything about foreign bases and pointed out that the Russian Navy would not be in charge of any foreign base agreements that Russia would make with any foreign nation.

Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated the denial at a press conference in Moscow. Given that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has so loudly voiced his intentions of returning Russia to its former military might, presumably with equipment that works this time, most foreign observers were not surprised by IRA Novosti’s report.

The idea of bases in the Seychelles, Vietnam, and Cuba is hardly new. Russia previously maintained bases in these locations until financial constraints forced them to close after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When questioned about any military base deals with Russia, Vietnam’s president Truong Tan Sang said that Vietnam has no intention of allowing foreign bases in his country. He said Vietnam would make the port of Cam Ranh available to all countries, but that Vietnam would help Russia by allowing for some facilities to be built to aid military cooperation between Vietnam and Russia.

Is that clear to everyone? No Russian bases in Vietnam ever, just some military facilities for Russian ships to use. The distinction is important, I’m sure . . . to someone . . . somewhere.

The desire for a base in Vietnam is understandable these days. Besides having had a base there previously and wanting closer relations with Vietnam, Russia’s inability to affect China’s current attempt to expand its borders across the South Pacific has to be terribly frustrating to a man like Putin. Vietnam is genuinely concerned about China’s new military aggression and wouldn’t mind a little help from its old communist brothers from up north, even if they are all stinking capitalist brothers now.

As for the Seychelles, some folks might wonder why anyone other than Seychelles sailors would want a port there. The answer is that a port in the Seychelles would give Russia a base of operations for refueling, resupply, and repairs when they operate ships in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean matters because that’s where the Suez canal and the Arabian Sea lead to, and that means tons of oil are shipped through the Indian Ocean to many destinations, including China.

The case of a Russian base reopening in Cuba is somewhat more irksome for the USA. Cuba is 90 miles from Florida. Part of the resolution to the 1962 “Cuban Missile Crisis” was that the Soviet Union agreed to never again bring nuclear weapons to Cuba. If Russian capital ships port in Cuba, then there will be Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba. If asked about it, Putin might say that those ships have no nuclear weapons (which no one would believe) and that he is not bound by agreements made by the old USSR.

So far, Putin has said neither of those things and isn’t directly responding to the issue. He is still busy with the question, “What fleet would we send to those new bases?”

At present, the Russian Navy is still suffering from a lack of money and is unable to put a credible deep sea fleet in the water. Putin claims that will change, and he has been increasing the budgets of all of the Russian military branches, including the navy. Even with Putin’s stifling influence on the Russian economy and its ongoing “brain drain” of many of Russia’s brightest young people, as long as oil and gas prices remain high, Russia will continue to make huge profits from energy sales to European nations.

So what shall we guess at as Putin’s intentions? Putin can’t be happy about events in Syria. Once his intelligence service informed him that the Assad regime would likely collapse, he had to reverse his stance. After loudly proclaiming Russian support for Assad (and for the continued use of the Russian fleet’s one foreign base beyond the Ukraine), Putin had to pretend to suddenly claim the moral high ground and hedge his bets against Syria.

Being Putin can’t be easy. Whenever he thinks about it, he can’t help but be aware that no reasonable Russian would put up with having him in charge unless they absolutely had to do so. He knows that his fellow corporate giants in Russia would love an opportunity to replace him with someone less expensive and less powerful. Putin can only get so much mileage out of the “daring Putin” staged photo shoots that portray him as a macho tough guy. Always in the market for any help he can get, Putin is becoming more willing to play the imaginary Cold War card.

There’s nothing like a national emergency to get people to tolerate a reduction in freedom and a lousy economy. (We’ll write about the D.H.S. some other day). Well okay, an efficient and obedient police state apparatus helps as well, but Putin’s thugs aren’t quite back up to North Korean or Cuban standards yet, and he can’t resist working on his mythology a bit in the mean time.

So while Putin has no urgent military need for a naval base on the US doorstep, and though he can hardly afford to waste cash on one, the chance to remain in the international limelight and to stir up some nationalistic sentiment in Russia is just too hard to pass up. So how do bright young Russians feel about all this? I can’t speak for them. The next time you see one moving into Western Europe, ask him.

In the short term, none of Russia’s imperialist dreams mean much to us in the West. How much it means to us in the future will depend on how well Putin can run the Russian economy, and how much of a Russian Navy he can build and put to sea.

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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.

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

© 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.