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Jalalabad: Taliban “complex” attack in eastern Afghanistan

December 2, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: Another Taliban coordinated attack looks unlikely to have achieved its ambitious military goal but will have had more success in the media domain…

map, jalalabad location in AfgThe Taliban have launched another attack (“…an ambitious co-ordinated assault involving explosive-laden vehicles and suicide bombers on foot…”) against what is described as a “joint US-Afghan” airbase in eastern Afghanistan.  The story is just emerging, so the BBC background info is probably a reasonably good guide for the moment.  I noticed this statement:

“…both Nato and Afghan officials said it was a failure because the militants did not penetrate the base…”

Which presumably means that the Taliban attack against Camp Bastion, in mid-September, which did penetrate the base, can now be re-defined as a successful attack?

The word “complex” is thrown around a lot in relation to Taliban assaults – sometimes by me.  I’m not quite sure what the definition is or should be – and what the distinction is between complex and simply coordinated.  This one seems to have been at a standard level of moderate coordination – ie the attacks went off at the same time.  Maybe there is an element of patronising the enemy here – if they can actually do more than one thing at the same time, they must have reached “complex” levels of capability.  The usual pattern and outcome for these attacks is that:

  • The attacks take place in the early morning – an effect of this is that the story gets into the media cycle early on in the day.  Does it also mean that the insurgents struggle to launch night attacks of the complex/coordinated type?
  • all the attackers die,
  • the target is generally not penetrated  to any significant degree but there are some very big bangs
  • the casualties are Afghans – both civilians innocently in the area at the time and Afghan army and police cordons
  • NATO describes it as a massive insurgent failure
  • the Taliban describe it as a massive Jihadi victory
  • the media notch it up as one more indicator of growing uncertainty/instability as ISAF gets set to leave the country

The net result, I suggest, is that the media victory generally outweighs the sheer military impact.  If the Taliban have a regular flow of willing volunteers for this sort of attack, they only have to get lucky once or twice – penetrate the cordon and achieve a mass casualty incident – to really make a statement, particularly to the international community…

Similar attack in November 2010


2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2012 11:31 pm

    To answer your query as to the meaning of “complex”, the U.S. military uses that term to indicate an incident where the insurgents utilize two or more forms of attack. For example, a relatively simple attack where insurgents utilize an IED and then follow up with small arms fire and RPGs is a “complex” attack.

  2. December 3, 2012 7:34 am

    Nick, hi and many thanks for this. I can’t help wondering therefore, with the example you give, whether the use of term isn’t a minor propaganda victory for the insurgents each time it is employed? It doesn’t seem particularly “complex” in the most general sense of the word. Is there a danger of a default imbuing of the insurgents with excessive capability?

    Welcome your thoughts



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