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Counterinsurgency in Northern Afghanistan

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Counterinsurgency in Northern Afghanistan

Counterinsurgency in Northern Afghanistan
Part of the War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
260px
German troops in combat in Chardara
Date April 2009 - ongoing
Location Northern Afghanistan
Result Tactical coalition successes, stalemate
Belligerents
Coalition
Germany Germany
United States United States
Afghanistan Afghanistan
Belgium Belgium
Insurgents
Afghanistan Taliban insurgents
al-Qaeda
Commanders and leaders
Coalition

United States John R. Allen
Germany Jörg Vollmer
Afghanistan Ali Murat
United States Sean Mulholland
Norway Joar Fjellstad
Belgium Jacky Cabo
Sweden Gustav Fahl


Notable former leadership
Germany Erich Pfeffer
Germany Hans-Werner Fritz
Germany Jörg Vollmer
Germany Jürgen Setzer
Germany Georg Klein
Germany Kai Rohrschneider
Germany H.C. Grohmann
Germany Michael Matz
Belgium Etienne Goudemant

Insurgents

Afghanistan Maulawi Shamsullah


Killed or captured
Afghanistan Qari Bashir Haqqani KIA
Afghanistan Qari Sidiqulla KIA
Afghanistan Mullah Ahsanullah KIA
Afghanistan Mullah Bahador KIA [1]
Afghanistan Mullah Abdul Salam #
Afghanistan Qari Wadoud #[2]
Unknown

Strength
Coalition
11,220

United States 5,000 troops
Germany 4,920 troops
Sweden 500 troops
Norway 400 troops
Belgium 400 troops
et al.
Afghanistan
Troops of 209th ANA Corps

Insurgents
unknown, at least 2,500*

Afghanistan unknown
(snapshot; actual numbers vary due to the conflict's nature[3])
several dozen
(snapshot; foreign fighters[4])
*Recent developments suggest activity of at least 500 insurgents in Kunduz and Baghlan provinces each as well as of several hundred insurgents in the far west of Regional Command North.

"Hundreds" according to Taliban by 2009[5]

Casualties and losses
Coalition
570+ total
Afghanistan 50+ KIA, 150+ WIA, several MIA


United States 25 KIA, 105 WIA
Germany 18 KIA, 133 WIA
Norway 5 KIA, 34 WIA
Sweden 5 KIA, 30 WIA
Others 3 KIA, 10 WIA

Insurgents
1,140+
Afghanistan 635+ KIA, 152+ WIA, 149+ POW, 200+ surrender
4 confirmed KIA
Civilian casualties
At least 120 killed or wounded
3 contractors killed


This article addresses incidents in the north of Afghanistan from April 2009 to present. While northern Afghanistan is relatively peaceful compared to the all-out war zones in the south and east of the country, the security situation in several provinces has deteriorated and prompted the German-led Regional Command North to launch a series of operations to take on the rising insurgency. Concerted operations began after an insurgent attack on PRT Kunduz only minutes after German Chancellor Angela Merkel left from a visit to German troops.[6] Meanwhile, American units have reinforced ISAF's presence in the north of the country, effectively doubling the available assets there and allowing a more aggressive approach towards the insurgency.

Situation

Northern Afghanistan was regarded among the safest areas in the country after NATO troops had commenced an increased presence there in 2003, with places such as Kunduz earning the nickname "Bad Kundus" (roughly: Kunduz spa) among German troops for the notable absence of greater threats to peace and security. Dangerously restrained and considerably under-strengthened forces - especially from Germany and Hungary - were not able to maintain public order in rural areas, though. Also, a Pashtun minority in several regional pockets did continue or just start to support resistance against dominating ethnic groups and foreign troops. These conditions allowed insurgents to re-infiltrate the north and threaten a key line of communications between the northern border of Afghanistan and Kabul, the capital. Due to similar problems in the area of responsibility of Regional Command West other insurgent groups and bands of criminals were able to get a foothold in the far west of Regional Command North as well.

Qari Bashir Haqqani, the Taliban commander for Kunduz province, vowed in 2008 already to beef up his men's efforts against the Germans. Reluctant to spoil for a direct engagement, the Taliban mainly relied upon suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices, killing three Germans over the year and wounding more than thirty. For 2009 they would eventually change their tactics. German Chief of Defense Wolfgang Schneiderhan predicted in late April that the war against the Taliban was about "to get a new quality":[7] Until 2009, German troops were only involved in a handful of firefights with Taliban militants. Between April and June, the number of direct contacts had already topped the total of the seven years before. A similar development struck Faryab province and the surrounding districts: Having already taken up actions to put the Taliban at rout, Norwegian forces saw themselves increasingly threatened by insurgent activities.

With casualties rising, the German leadership was prompted to revise the rules of engagement of its troops in early 2009. The German military began joint operations with Afghan security forces in accordance to the "Afghan-face" strategy[8] of ISAF in April 2009 and continued to conduct own operations to improve the security as well as supporting other allies in their own struggle. By 2009, there were three major hotspots: the insurgency of the Taliban in Kunduz' Chardara district, the presence of armed militants in Baghlan province and the militants' activities in Faryab province.

Following the Kunduz airstrike against two captured fuel tankers in September 2009, Germany reclassified the Afghanistan deployment in February 2010 as an "armed conflict within the parameters of international law", allowing German forces to act without risk of prosecution under German law.[9] In early 2010 as well, US troops were poured into Northern Afghanistan and Regional Command North upgraded to be led by a major general in the future.[10]

Operations

Concerted operations began with numerous raids and "provocative patrols" into the Taliban heartland, dubbed "Talibania" by German troops.[11] Four insurgents and two ANA soldiers were killed in various engagements and more than 40 insurgents were detained.[12] A large amount of weapons and explosives was seized. German troops tried to maintain a presence even in remote areas during these weeks and were frequently attacked while the situation deteriorated in other areas of RC-N as well: On April 17, a Norwegian officer was killed when his patrol struck a roadside bomb.[13] On April 29, German troops made a concentrated advance into the rebellious Chardara district of Kunduz province and suffered 15 casualties when they were attacked by suicide bombers and came under heavy fire by an overwhelming insurgent force. A trooper of 2./292 light infantry battalion was killed in action. It was the first time since World War II that a German soldier engaged in combat was killed in action. The following weeks saw numerous small engagements again.[14][15]

Another attempt to regain control over Chahar Dara was made on May 7. By late noon, German infantry detachments reconnoitering the bordering areas were ambushed by a large group of insurgents. Responding reinforcements surrounded the attackers and battled them for more than a day in a fierce engagement which also involved allied close air support. Seven hostile fighters were killed and 14 were wounded, while numerous insurgents were arrested as well.[16] One Afghan police officer was also among the wounded. On the same day, troops of PRT Faizabad conducted an operation to detain notable leaders of the insurgency in Northern Afghanistan; A high profile arrest was made when German special forces operatives arrested Abdul Razeq, the Taliban commander for Northeast Afghanistan.[17] One KSK operative suffered minor wounds.

During the second half of May and early June, heavy reinforcements were deployed to PRT Kunduz almost doubling the garrison there. The security situation had turned notably worse. All girl schools in Chardara were closed for fear of imminent terrorist attacks. Manpower shortages did not allow German forces to uphold a permanent deterrence against armed militias. German and Afghan troops increased their efforts to take on the Taliban in different operations (joint operations as well as independent activities). On May 15, ANSF killed Qari Sidiqulla, a Taliban district commander for Imam Sahib, in Imam Sahib's Sharawan region. Three of his fighters were also killed. In the same week, the Taliban tried to assassinate Mohammad Omar, the Governor of Kunduz. He and his bodyguard were slightly wounded. On July 1, four ANSF personnel were killed in Chahardara.

Operation Sahda Ehlm

On June 4, German forces including the Quick Reaction Force of Regional Command North undertook another concentrated advance into rebellious Chardara district after a patrol had been ambushed close to a bordering wetlands. German troops encountered resistance, and killed at least ten militants in heavy fighting.[18] During the fighting, Master Sergeant Daniel Seibert, a squad leader with 2./212 mechanized infantry battalion, and Master Sergeant Jan Hecht, a squad leader with 2./391 mechanized infantry battalion led a counterattack which saved the lives of numerous German soldiers, and were later awarded Germany's highest military award.[19]

Three days later, a German infantry unit was ambushed as it tried to recover a vehicle disabled by hostile fire. Two Germans were wounded in the attack, while one attacker was killed and two were wounded. Sergeant First Class Steffen Knoska, a squad leader with 2nd Company, Air Assault Regiment 1 was also honored after evacuating a wounded soldier to safety while risking his own life.

Fighting continued later on in the day between Taliban and Coalition forces. Two Afghan National Army soldiers were killed, and two Afghan soldiers and a Belgian soldier suffered wounds.[20] A local official was murdered by the Taliban in Shir Khan on June 17.

On June 23, another heavy engagement took place only a few kilometres off the outskirts of Kunduz when about 300 German soldiers of 2./391 mechanized infantry battalion and 1./263 Paratrooper Battalion and Afghan National Army soldiers were attacked by insurgent forces. Three Taliban were killed during the fighting. Three German soldiers were also killed when their armored personnel carrier slid down a bank, fell into an irrigation ditch and rolled over as it attempted to evade enemy fire.[21] Several engagements took place in the following time, resulting in few or no casualties among allied troops. ISAF facilities in Kunduz were also directly targeted by insurgent forces with rockets and mortars. Four American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on June 7.

"Thank God (...) the Marders came and held down the enemy."
- A German Panzergrenadier during the campaign's Operation Oqab.[22]

Operation Oqab

July's joint Afghan-German efforts, dubbed Operation Eagl) now, led to more fierce confrontations on July 20 and later on in which Marder infantry fighting vehicles and mortars were used for the first time by German forces. At least 16 Taliban were killed, 12 were wounded and 14 were detained. Two Afghan civilians were also among the killed.[23] During the operation German forces came to the rescue of enclosed Afghan and Belgian troops at one time. The firefight lasted for six hours and was supported by close air support from US A10 (Thunderbolt) airplanes. It was the first time after World War II that German Panzergrenadiers led a dismounted attack against enemy forces.[24] The Taliban murdered approximately twenty civilians in two separate incidents on July 22.[25] During the last week of July, Chardara was almost cleared of Taliban.


The situation calmed down for about a week but observers warned that the Taliban were not defeated and could return immediately to the disputed district.[26] A rising number of hostile encounters in the first week of August suggested they were right. One German soldier was shot during combat on August 7.[27] Twelve insurgents and four local police officers were killed in an engagement on August 12. A day later, 20 insurgents were killed when they tried to storm a police station in Aliabad. On August 16, the Taliban began to attack supplies en route to the PRT. After nightfall, they opened fire on a civilian fuel convoy and ignited the load. 2009's Presidential elections were expected to worsen the situation, but only a few attacks occurred during the turnout itself: Three police officers were killed and 5 kidnapped in Imam Sahib on August 19. 14 Taliban were killed on August 26/27. Afghan forces took out another 7 Taliban and 4 "foreign fighters" on August 28.

Heavy engagements came in the first week of September. On September 3, small gains were made when a Taliban cell in Imam Shahib was successfully battled by German forces and forced to retreat. Eleven insurgents were killed. Four German soldiers were also wounded in combat and eight German armoured personnel carriers were destroyed.

Kunduz airstrike

On September 4, a devastating NATO air raid was conducted only 7 kilometres to the southwest of Kunduz where Taliban fighters had hijacked civilian supply trucks. A later German investigation found that up to 142 people died in the attack, including an unknown number of civilians.[28] While several German officials justified the airstrike initially, it caused considerable uproar in Germany, leading to the resignation of senior officers and then-Minister of Labour Franz-Josef Jung.

Three German troopers were wounded in a vehicle suicide attack the following day.[29] More hostile encounters wounded eight more German soldiers during the following weeks, among them the first female German combat casualty.[30] KSK operatives launched another successful raid in early October and arrested 15 Taliban[31] during a surprise attack. Three civilians were killed and 17 wounded during a Taliban attack on October 3. Six insurgents were detained by ISAF and ANSF on October 10 and more than 50 surrendered. One insurgent was killed when hostile forces attacked German soldiers during a humanitarian mission on October 20. A day later, two Taliban were killed and three ANSF officers wounded in Pul-e Alchhi. On November 2, 7 insurgents were killed and 8 arrested in a gunfight involving Afghan, German and Belgian troops.

Chardara battles of late 2009

With the support of United States special forces and German troops,[32] another offensive was launched by Afghan forces in Gor Tepa on November 5.[33] According to media coverage, 133 Taliban and one US soldier were killed.[34] Qari Bashir Haqqani was also reported dead. Another thirteen insurgents were wounded and 25 taken prisoner. The push into Gor Tepa ended on November 10.

A day later, Afghan-German forces were attacked in Chahar Dara again and suffered two casualties when an Afghan and a German soldier were shot.[35] For the first time in the North, CH-53GS helicopters of the German army took fire from the ground repeatedly and were forced to retreat due to damages,[36] raising concerns about the security of aerial connections between remote facilities. On November 15, one of these helicopters was carrying Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany's Minister of Defence. During the following days German and American troops had almost daily contact with enemy fighters.[37]

Afghan troops, German soldiers and local security contractors were involved into numerous engagements during the following weeks. Security contractors protecting the "Mischa Meier"-Bridge crossing Kunduz river to the southwest of the city were attacked by insurgents. Five Taliban and three locals were killed. Another five insurgents were killed in Imam Sahib and Khanabad respectively. Six fighters were captured. Five insurgents were killed by ISAF and ANSF troops on December 9.

Intensifying warfare in 2010

On December 14, yet another offensive was launched. The advancing battle group was composed of 300 German soldiers and 300 members of the local security forces. The goals were to set up a permanent checkpoint in Chahar Dara and win local support for Afghan government agencies. It was the first time that a new coherent approach was tested in accordance to General Stanley A. McChrystals COIN strategy "Clear - hold - build". Combat engineers along with troops of 4/391 mechanized infantry battalion encountered hostile forces several times when they were trying to rebuild a bridge over the Kunduz river, making the way into Chardara passable again. Fierce fighting erupted in the following days, wounding two German troopers and killing several insurgents, including the local Taliban leader Mullah Ahsanullah.[38]

In January 2010, the United States and Germany decided to increase their efforts in Kunduz by raising troop and civilian numbers to 6,000.[39] After a successful advance into Chardara in late December, another operation was started on January 28. Operation Gala-e Gorg (Operation Wolf Pack) included almost 500 German and about 120 Afghan troops and aimed at the installation of further outposts in the rebellious district. One German soldier was wounded and nine insurgents killed in intense fighting.[40]

German troops faced a very serious situation when insurgents they chased hid in a crowd of local villagers on February 5. One insurgent was killed and another wounded but so were two civilians caught in the crossfire.[41] On February 9, an Afghan night patrol mistook German soldiers for insurgents and opened fire on them. Luckily no one was hurt in this incident. Further contacts encountered during the following days: One February 16, US special forces killed one insurgent and detained two others while chasing a Taliban commander.[42] On February 17, six insurgents were killed in clashes with German troops. 25 insurgents surrendered on February 22.[43]

Several insurgents were wounded or killed during clashes in the first two weeks of March.[44] Again, close air support and mortars were used. One German soldier was wounded in action on March 5. Two Swedish officers were killed in action.[45] Engagements followed throughout the next weeks, and on March 24 a contracted helicopter carrying ISAF-troops was shot down by insurgents. On April 2, the largest battle since the fall of the Kunduz in 2001 took place when a large group of insurgents attacked German troops of 2./373 paratrooper battalion in the vicinity of Isa Khel and a nearby Afghan police station. 3 German soldiers died of wounds sustained in combat and 17 suffered wounds and injuries of varying degree.[46] 6 Afghan troops were killed by friendly fire when a German IFV crew mistook these reinforcements for insurgents.[47] The battle of Isa Khel went down into German military history as the most bloody hostile encounter German troops have been involved in since the end of World War II. 21 troops were honored for their bravery, among them 14 service members of the 158th Aviation Regiment.[48] The following weeks saw daily clashes that killed 2 US soldiers and 3 others killed by a roadside bomb on June 16.[49]

On June 27, four Norwegian troops were killed by a roadside bomb [50] in the course of a series of operations aimed at increasing coalition and government presence in Ghowrmach, another hotspot in the northern allies' area of responsibility. The mission of the Norwegian forces was to provide mentoring and fire support for Afghan security forces which were initially poorly trained and lacked strength, equipment and leadership. The Norwegian forces killed 150 insurgents during the second half of the year,[51] effectively putting a pressure upon insurgent militias in RC-Ns comprehensive security approach to regain control over the entire north of Afghanistan.

Operations Taohid I, II& III

Later that month, a multi-national force launched a series of Operations dubbed Taohid (Operation Unity) to drive insurgents out of neighbouring Baghlan province. On April 15, 4 Germans were killed in action and 5 wounded when their armoured vehicle was hit by RPG fire during an ambush.[52] At least 20 Taliban were also killed.[53] Another 21 militants died until early May and 27 were detained.[54] It was the first time that the Afghan military made use of their own aerial assets, rasing hopes about the survivability of the local security forces.[55] A sweep through Dahana-i Gori immediately afterwards was supposed to prevent remaining insurgents from hiding in neighbouring provinces. At least 9 Taliban were killed and 11 wounded.[56]

The third phase of concerted operations in Baghlan-i Jadid began in late June.[57] It was planned to build a set of combat outposts and increase coalition presence in areas until then hold by armed militants. International troops were also able to distribute humanitarian aid to the population of these areas. Several hostile encounters occurred during the following weeks.[58] However, allied forces were not able to maintain permanent security along the line of communications between Kunduz and Pol-e Khomri initially. Two Hungarian [59] and a US soldier [60] were killed in several incidents.

The international forces undertook another advance into the disputed area, the so-called "Highway Triangle" [61] to the north of Pol-e Khomri between September and October 2010. The battle for Highway Triangle lasted for several days and included a large mechanised force as well as close air support.[62] The liberated area around Shahabuddin and Aka-Khel was supposed to be secured by local pro-government militias. Their outpost was taken by the Taliban only a few weeks later, though. The German TF Kunduz assaulted the outpost and retook it in close combat. ISAF has been maintaining an own presence in Shahbuddin since then. On October 7, 2010, 1 German soldier was killed and 14 wounded in a series of attacks.[63] It was also in this outpost on February 18, 2011 that a rogue Afghan soldier turned against German troops, killing three and wounding six.[64]

Future prospects

The development in Northern Afghanistan marked a turn in the rather pacifist military policy of the German government and also represented a crucial test for the cooperation of the allies. The intensity of the fighting has sparked a public debate in Germany whether German troops would participate in all-out war in Afghanistan or not. Observers expected that ongoing combat operations would have an impact on the German Federal Elections in 2009. Others regarded the unusual move as a reaction to sharp criticism Germany has faced for opting out a more offensive role in the Afghanistan war,[65] a matter only stressed by the fact that it was not before the arrival of further US troops that the situation could be controlled by ISAF. However, then-ISAF commander Stanley McChrystal had expressed his concerns about Northern Afghanistan at the time and called Kunduz, Baghlan and the northwest of Afghanistan places where security were deteriorating in a particular worrying manner and concerted actions of all allies required.[66]

See also

References

Main Source: Winfried Nachtwei report on Afghanistan

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