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Taliban assault on Camp Bastion

September 15, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: An effective Taliban night attack on the second largest ISAF base yields a military result (insurgents penetrated inside the camp, US Marines killed and military aircraft damaged) and a high media profile.  Despite a likely quick response and 16 insurgents killed, this was not good for ISAF.

Unconfirmed Taliban twitter account pic purporting to show attack aftermath from 15 September

On Friday night the Taliban launched an attack on Camp Bastion, one of the biggest (second only to Bagram, I think) ISAF military bases inside Afghanistan.  The attack was repelled, as one might expect, with the loss of several (some reports suggest as many as 16) attackers killed, but not before the Taliban killed a couple of US Marines (number of wounded unclear to me) and damaged a number of military aircraft.  Here are the reports from the BBC and from the Taliban

Insurgents have attacked NATO’s heavily fortified Camp Bastion base in southern Afghanistan.  At least two US marines died when militants breached the perimeter of the sprawling base in Helmand province.  The Taliban told the BBC that they carried out the attack in revenge for a film mocking Islam which has triggered protests around the Muslim world.  Aircraft and buildings were damaged and NATO says a “clearance” operation is under way.  Camp Bastion is situated in the middle of the desert with excellent visibility all around, says the BBC’s Jonathan Beale in Kabul.  It is extremely heavily fortified and serious questions will be asked about how militants were able to stage the brazen surprise assault.  The UK’s Prince Harry began a second tour of duty at the base just over a week ago, but is said to be unharmed.

HELMAND, Sep. 15 – Officials reporting from Gerishk district of Helmand province state that tens of martyrdom seeking Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate stormed the second largest enemy military base in southern Afghanistan, Shorab airbase, which houses tens of thousands of foreign troops including the prince of Whales, Harry last night.

Officials further say that dozens of invaders were killed in the initial phases as well as several Jets, Apache and Chinook helicopters destroyed, adding that the military base is engulfed in fire and covered in heavy smoke while the operation is still on-going.

It should be mentioned that this operation is a part of revenge campaign by the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate for insult towards the beloved Prophet of Islam, Hazrat Muhammad (SAW), and plans have been placed for further retaliation throughout the country.

Analysis and Outlook

Well, dust and smoke has literally got to settle first, but I have a few thoughts.  From my own experience of the Taliban attack on the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul September 2006, ISAF will be very cautious before they declare the attack to be over – a lot of areas in this huge camp may have to be formally swept through and declared “clear” before the damage can be assessed and repaired and lessons identified.  If insurgent fighters have penetrated the defences, past experiences shows it not inconceivable that some might have been tasked with digging themselves in somewhere on the base with small arms, RPGs and suicide vests in order to prolong the incident and cause further problems.  As hours go by, this will become less likely, as daylight and the high alert will rapidly reveal any remaining fighters.  I am guessing that most of the people on the camp will never leave the base apart from R and R and to leave for home.  One of my memories from September last year was the real concern at the volume of people with guns on the base – only some of whom will be officially charged with base defence – and some or these personnel perhaps over-anxious to have a shot or two in order to have a “proper” war story to relate.  The risk of “Blue on Blue” (sorry to revert to colours) will have been high at night and will still remain a risk.  Situational awareness is not at its best when you have been confined to an emergency shelter all night…

I have passed through Camp Bastion, deep in the heart of the Helmand desert, a handful of times.  It is genuinely a huge (and bewildering, if you land there at night) sprawling complex of any number of depots, bases, installations built around a huge airbase.   It was much less huge when I first visited, in mid-2006, as it expanded greatly to meet the needs of the “surge” generally and the requirement to house the thousands of incoming US Marines (Camp Leatherneck) who were coming in over 2008 – 2010, to take over the lion’s share of COIN work within Helmand province.  When construction started on it, I 2005, I understood it was sighted precisely so that it was extremely difficult to approach on foot.

The Taliban have thrown out a couple of motives – targeting the UK’s Prince of Wales, recently deployed there as an Apache attack helicopter co-pilot, and revenge for an anti-Islamic video probably made in America probably by an American that is circulating on Youtube.  But this attack might equally have been planned long in advance and then attached to the latest “event” dominating the media.  Be that as it may, what appears of greatest significance to me is that the Taliban fighters appeared to have managed to have penetrated what would have been a highly protected perimeter, adding military value to the attack to the self-evident media impact the attack is already generating.  From the Taliban’s perspective this has been an easy win at a low cost – they don’t, thus far, even appear to have had to employ particularly valuable assets, like suicide bombers.

I have suggested in previous posts that one problem the Taliban might fall victim to in the coming months as ISAF pulls out is an over-confident assault on an ISAF or ANSF base in a misjudged attempt to overrun it, resulting in massive casualties.  Althogh they may yet commit such an error, this was not such an attack.

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