Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Violence in Badakhshan Persists: what last year’s Jurm attack still tells us about insecurity in the north

Bethany Matta 18 min

On the one year anniversary of a major attack in Jurm in April 2015, and not long before the Taleban are expected to announce their new spring offensive, Badakhshis are nervously anticipating the year ahead. AAN guest author Bethany Matta revisits the attack, detailing how it happened and showing how the attack and its aftermath illustrate many of the security challenges Badakhshan still faces today. These include an expected persistent level of violence, a significant role played by foreign fighters and a continuing sense by the local population and security officials that the province is being overlooked.

Soldiers collect the bodies of killed colleagues after the Taleban attack on the Dahan Ab-e Khostak base in Jurm, Badakhshan. The process took up to ten days because of the lack of available helicopters to transport them out of the district. (Photo Credit: Local authorities, April 2015)Soldiers collect the bodies of killed colleagues after the Taleban attack on the Dahan Ab-e Khostak base in Jurm, Badakhshan. The process took up to ten days because of the lack of available helicopters to transport them out of the district. (Photo Credit: Local authorities, April 2015)

The attack on the Dahan Ab-e Khostak base in April 2015

On Friday 10 April 2015, several hundred Taleban fighters launched a large-scale attack in Jurm. According to a local resident, it all started when an estimated 250-400 Taleban fighters from Khostak valley crossed the river sometime before midnight and made their way to the nearby ANA base at Dahan Ab-e Khostak in the village of Mail Astia. (1)  At around 2 am they launched a large-scale attack on the base and the surrounding outposts. Several Afghan unit commanders described receiving urgent text messages and phone calls from soldiers* under attack in outposts asking for help.

While the exact numbers of besieged ANSF are not entirely clear, the author was told that at the time of the attack about 70-120 security forces were present at the main base. Commander Muhammad, who was not present at the time (and who asked to remain anonymous), left immediately for the Dahan Ab-e Khostak base after receiving news of the attack. When he reached the main base at around 5 am, clashes had already been underway for several hours. The base had come under heavy fire that seemed to come from all sides and the soldiers’ ammunition was running low.

The clashes continued and by noon on Saturday 11 April 2015, the Taleban had captured the main base and all surrounding outposts. By that time, the soldiers had run out of ammunition – the main weapons caches had either been captured by the Taleban or spent by the Afghan forces. Despite repeated phone calls from soldiers to commanders and Badakhshan officials as well as to officials in Kabul throughout the late night and early morning, pleading for reinforcements, ammunition and air support, none had arrived.

It was only after the bases had fallen ­­– more than 10 hours after the onset of the attack ­­– that two helicopters carrying 50-60 ANA Special Forces finally arrived and started a counterattack against the Taleban in an attempt to push back the front line and reclaim the lost base and outposts. The Taleban managed to hold on to their gains for a while, and only retreated when they had emptied the base of everything they wanted to take with them. When the Afghan forces finally managed to break the frontline and recapture the lost check posts and the main base, the militants had disappeared into the Khostak valley, taking with them not only weapons and equipment, but also a large number of captured ANA soldiers. The Afghan forces did not pursue them.

In the aftermath of the attack, columns of smoke rose across the valley from the smoldering outposts. The remnants of the destroyed steel walls from the main base lay strewn about and several military vehicles jutting out of the river – perhaps signs of failed looting attempts, but according to soldiers and locals, these were vehicles that had run out of fuel when ANSF soldiers tried to escape the attack. The bodies of three dead soldiers were said to have been thrown in the river but were never found. The village of Mail Astia was deserted except for a few elders and local residents who collected the dead.

Impact of the Jurm attack

According to the Ministry of Defense (MoD), a total of 33 ANSF soldiers were killed, wounded or had gone missing; the ANSF claimed to have killed 20 Taleban and injured 17. The Taleban claimed to have killed 49 ANA soldiers. But according to the unofficial version of events – as told by Jurm elders, provincial council members and officials that spoke to the author after the attack – the number of casualties had been far higher. According to a commander who was present during the attack “69 ANA and police were killed, out of which 28 were beheaded.” This figure has since then been, unofficially, corroborated by other (government and civilian) sources.

The attack in Jurm district was certainly not the first large-scale attack in Badakhshan, but it stood out as it highlighted the growing insecurity in a province that was once considered one of the safest in the country. Moreover, the brutality of the attack shocked the nation (see reporting at the time here, here and here) and seemed to point towards an increased ruthlessness of the insurgency in Afghanistan’s north. What was particularly distressing to the local population was that most of the soldiers that were captured by the Taleban were subsequently killed, and that most of the killed soldiers were beheaded, despite the fact that local elders had been sent into the Khostak valley to negotiate their release.

The Taleban had reportedly placed the decapitated heads of the soldiers on rocks alongside of the road in Khostak valley. After a few days, village mullahs, imams and elders asked the Taleban to remove the heads, telling them it was “not good” and “un-Islamic.” The sight, a village doctor told the author, was making locals mentally ill. The Taleban, however, seemed to have deliberately tried to horrify the population, as in one case, a captured solider was forced to call his mother with the militants beheading him mid-conversation. (2)  In their defense, the Taleban argued that although beheadings were normally “contradictory to rules of engagement,” they were in this case justified in retaliation for the behaviour of the Afghan security forces during a clash in neighboring Warduj district on 20 March 2015. The Taleban claimed that during this clash, the Afghan soldiers  had violated Islam and the rules of engagement by shooting “martyrs in the face to the point that they were unrecognisable.”

What was particularly uncomfortable to admit for the local population was that the vast majority – and possibly all – of the security forces who were killed or beheaded were not from Badakhshan province. This sparked rumours that local soldiers had either been spared for some reason or had received advance warning about the planned attack. The idea that local security forces, aware of the threat, had possibly deliberately not informed their fellow soldiers of an imminent attack – thereby contributing to their deaths – added to the embarrassment.

Several Jurm residents remarked that some local community members had been so upset and embarrassed that they were ready to start an uprising against the Taleban, but had found little to no government support for this idea. “They [the government] were inactive,” a local elder said, a statement echoed by many others. This, in turn, affected the communities’ support for and their attitudes towards the government. Locals commented that the lack of a government response had driven some people to be more inclined towards the Taleban in the aftermath of the Jurm attack.

The incident, in general, was seen as showcasing the failure of the Afghan government to adequately deal with the growing challenges that the insurgency presents in the north. Media and parliament reacted strongly, accusing both the National Unity Government and the ANSF of negligence. Commander Muhammad summarised what the soldiers wanted to know: why the vehicles had had no fuel, why had the reinforcements not arrived on time, why had the government not compensated families whose sons were killed, and why had the government been so indifferent to the forces’ safety and the overall security situation in the area. Moreover, military and government officials told the author that although there are large stocks of ammunition across Afghanistan, these often do not reach the relevant ANA units in time because of poor lines of communication and lack of logistics, like in the case of the Jurm attack. This failure of the government to provide support to a base in need, but also to commit sufficient forces over a longer period of time, even after the attack, earned the government a lot of criticism.

The president, in response to the upheaval, flew to Faizabad on 16 April 2015, four days after the attack, to meet with security officials and representatives of the province’s districts.  At a press conference, the day after his arrival, he discussed the challenges facing the nation and praised the security forces, stressing that their sacrifices would not go to waste. The ministry of defense ordered an investigation, partly in response to allegations of negligence and complicity in the attack by the local security forces.

One year after the attack, there has still been no release of any official findings.

Accusations of complicity

Immediately after the attack, rumours and reports of complicity of locals and ANSF in the Taleban attack surfaced. One man in particular was singled out: Azizullah Raufi, the ANA commander in charge, who seems to have been the only official who was arrested immediately following the attack. A few more arrests were made after the prelimary MoD investigation, but a final report of the investigation was never issued and according to the district governor of Jurm, Abdul Wadood Sayedi, no one in Badakhshan has been charged so far.

Raufi, who was apparently arrested (but whose current whereabouts are unknown), was not at the Dahan-e Ab-e Khostak base at the time of the attack. General Sher Muhammad Karimi, then Chief of Army Staff, confirmed this when questioned by a parliamentary committee. Several Afghan officials said they thought Raufi might have received information about the imminent attack, after which he left for Kabul without permission and without informing his superiors.

According to Deputy Governor Bedar, it is not uncommon for families in districts such as Jurm, where insecurity is on the rise, to have members working with both the Taleban and the police, who may then exchange information and warn each other of impending attacks. “They are like partners-in-crime,” Bedar said. “When we start an operation, a security official may call a relative who is with the Taleban and warn him.” Parliamentarians from Badakhshan that the author spoke to agreed with this assessment.

Another important factor seems to have been the occurrence of pre-attack negotiations. According to residents, including District Governor Sayedi, several elders were asked to negotiate with local soldiers on behalf of the Taleban. The elders told the soldiers that if they left their weapons and walked away from the base, they would be left alone; if not, they would risk being captured, killed and possibly beheaded. The elders were left with little choice in the matter but to conduct these negotiations. The soldiers seemed to be willing to comply with the Taleban’s demands; indeed, as an elder reported, “They [the soldiers] did not fight or fire, they simply left the post and left all the arms, Humvees and ammunition to the Taleban.”

It seems, however, that it was mainly the local police, who laid down their weapons and fled the scene, leaving behind a sizable number of – largely ANA – forces not from the area. The fact that not all government security forces left explains the continued heavy fighting that took place throughout the night of the Jurm attack.

According to a ministry of interior official, the pre-attack negotiations are a cause for concern because they are used quite often by the Taleban, and quite effectively. Multiple incidents, similar in nature, were reported around Badakhshan and in other northern provinces before and after the Jurm attack (see for instance here and here). Deputy Governor Bedar also described how the five bases in Baharak and Zebak districts (to the east of Jurm), had been taken in a similar manner, despite each base having more than 200 ALP and ANP. As a result, large amounts of ammunition, weapons, and vehicles (including police Rangers and military Humvees) had been seized and are now used by the insurgents to fight against the Afghan government. (3)

According to several residents, the complicity in the Jurm attack may have gone even further. They related how the Afghan Local Police (ALP) commander Abdul Mulik, who commands a large militia, supposedly paid ANA commander Raufi millions of Afghani to let the bases fall to the Taleban (one million Afghani is almost 20,000 US dollar). Others said Mulik paid the Taleban who then bought the bases from Raufi and other check post commanders. Some argued that the deal – if there indeed had been one – was related to Abdul Mulik’s involvement in the illegal mining business (as a former district police commander he had in fact fought the Taleban in the past). Ahmad Javid Mujahiddi, the deputy head of the provincial council, said that the ANA base had probably been impeding Mulik’s illegal mining business, as its location was hampering access to the mine.

Role of foreign fighters

The attack in Jurm also illustrates the increased impact of foreign fighters on both the composition and strategies of the insurgency in northern Afghanistan after the military operation in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, which started in June 2014. Seasoned foreign militants were pushed out of Pakistan and entered Afghanistan – across its eastern borders via Nuristan, and in the north via the Shah-e Salim and Topkhana passes of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province – and the local Afghan Taleban helped them find places to settle, including in Afghanistan’s northern provinces. Government officials and residents of Badakhshan said the foreign fighters initially behaved as guests and their presence in the communities was not immediately noticeable. Many of them were Tajik and Uzbek by nationality (with a smattering of Chechens, Pakistanis, Uighurs and Arabs) – sharing similar physical features, language and customs allowed them to easily blend in with the local population.

At the same time even Badakhshis were taken by surprise by how quickly the numbers grew and by the impact the new arrivals started to have on the security situation. For example, in the summer of 2014, the Taleban took Azizurahman, a former border police officer, as a prisoner after they attacked a local police check post in Bashan, an area of Waduj district. He and 23 others were taken to Jurm district and held there for 47 days. As there was no jail to keep them, they moved along with the militants wherever they went. He estimated that during this time he had seen more than 500 Taleban in Jurm, most of them Afghans, but with a significant number of foreign fighters present as well. He could not recognise the languages the foreign fighters spoke. Other locals, who spoke to the author, also remarked that they often had difficulties discerning where the foreign fighters were from.

With the influx of foreign militants, brutal tactics, particularly beheadings, seemed to become increasingly common. Civilians reported that because the fighters were not from Afghanistan, they appeared to care less about the locals, which reportedly made it easier for them to commit atrocious acts, compared to local Taleban, who would presumably be more susceptible to local pushback. Beheadings, as seen in the Jurm attack, have thus far been used mostly as an intimidation tactic. According to local sources, it was militants from Tajikistan who carried out the beheadings during and after the Jurm attack.

Taleban strength since the 2015 Jurm attack

At the beginning of the 2015 fighting season, it became apparent that the militants had used the deep rifts and unlikely alliances between local players such as government officials, power brokers and militias to carve out safe havens for themselves in Jurm’s Khostak valley and neighboring Warduj district (see previous AAN report here). At the same time, the plethora of superficial attacks in quick succession across Afghanistan allowed the insurgents to divert the attention of the ANSF and to fatigue government resources. As a result, the Taleban was able to expand their influence and control, not only in Badakhshan, but also in other parts of the north, such as Takhar’s Darqad district. (4)

Since the Jurm attack in April 2015, the Afghan government launched a few operations to counter the insurgency’s expansion in Badakhshan, but the network of mountain passes, valleys and rivers that connects the districts of Yamgan, Jurm and Warduj makes decisive military operations difficult. Although a large security force can succeed in pushing back the militants into neighboring districts, the insurgents are able to return again as soon as the government forces retreat to their bases. This was the case, for instance, during the government operations that started on 22 January 2016 in Tagab district, which borders Yamgan district to the west. The operation involved a large force of 600-700 ANSF troops. According to a western security analyst, the Taleban initially held their ground but were soon pushed back. When the ANSF conducted a village-by-village clearance operation, a large number of Taleban escaped to the Teshkan area in the northern part of the district, while others made it over the mountain passes that lead into Jurm and Yamgan district in the east.

Following the operation in Tagab, there was a lull until 15 February 2016 when the Afghan government announced another operation, which began the following morning in Argo. Officials told the author that the Afghan forces would make their way into Khash district, and then Jurm and Warduj, in order to try to entrap the Taleban in the notorious Khostak valley (which they did not end up doing). (5) The operation started in Spin Gul Valley, about 25 kilometres southeast of the provincial capital Faizabad – one of three areas (the others being Kohestan and Yaftal, sub-districts of the provincial capital) where militants maintain a close enough reach to be able to enter Faizabad city. Security analysts claim that the operation in Argo did manage to cut off the militants’ escape routes, but based on previous experience in the area and the overall effectiveness of operations across the country, there is little reason to believe that the operation will have a long-term effect. Moreover, on the eve of 16 February 2016, after the morning’s operations in Argo district, an overwhelming force of militants launched attacks on Afghan security forces in the Amb-e Ardar area of Baharak and Sar-e Pol-e Sooch in Jurm. (7)  On 5 March 2016, seemingly in response, the ANSF launched an airstrike on Baharak district, Dashtuk and Amb-e Ardar area followed by a clearance operation.

Since then all operations in Badakhshan seem to have come to a halt, much to the concern of Badakhshan provincial council members and civil society activists. According to a military officer, future operations in Badakhshan are likely to merely consist of operations by police forces with some air support, as seen in the 5 March 2016 attack in Baharak. This will not significantly change the security situation in Badakhshan. According to a western official familiar with the security developments in the province, “Retaking ground is not part of the discussion. The focus is on the fragmentation and disruption of the Taleban.” For Badakhshan, this means those areas under Taleban control will most likely remain that way.

Afghan officials, reluctant to speak on record about the issue, have indicated that this may be part of a larger strategy. They said that deals are currently being struck in Warduj and Jurm between the Taleban and government district chiefs in order to prevent more bloodshed. One mentioned the example of such a deal in Sofian village of Warduj. According to a Ministry of Interior official, part of the Ghani administration’s approach was to cede territory to the Taleban in order to lure them to the negotiating table. A High Peace Council official said the main objective was to ensure that the Taleban is “no longer a brand” and that by supporting local Taleban groups across the country, the movement could be fragmented.

Whatever the case, the latest developments seems to have caused the government to not only shelve the operations it had planned to counter the growing militancy in Badakhshan, but also to halt its attempts to set up a permanent base in Faizabad. The base was meant to house the new 4th brigade and was supposed to have been completed before the last winter set in.

It seems fair to say that what appeared to be one of the insurgency’s main objectives of 2015 – creating unchallenged safe havens in Badakhshan – has indeed been achieved. Out of Badakhshan’s 28 districts, three are more or less under Taleban control as of early April 2016 – Jurm, Yamgan and Warduj – with some areas being contested due to the presence of ANSF bases, which the Taleban are trying to attack and overrun. Looking at the military’s plans or lack thereof for Badakhshan at the moment; it seems unlikely this situation will change.

Declining Resources

The mass attacks on government forces across Afghanistan in 2015 and early 2016 have had substantial effects on the morale and motivation of the Afghan forces. This comes on top of existing complaints that eat at the soldiers’ morale, ranging from wearing old, holey shoes and clothes, being fed bad food, and not getting paid; to commanders not responding to phone calls from their subordinates in emergency situations, and reinforcements arriving late, or not at all, when troops are under attack. These grievances, in turn, feed into the high rates of attrition and desertion, which have left Afghanistan with a shrinking ANSF. (6)  And then there are of course also the direct threats by the Taleban.

It is not clear how many security forces in Badakhshan have left their posts due to Taleban threats. Some of the soldiers who were given ultimatums to “leave or be killed,” eventually returned to their checkpoints, according to provincial council members. Some left Badakhshan to serve in the ANSF in other provinces, while others decided to leave the country altogether to find other work in Iran or Pakistan.

The international military forces also did not seem to have shown much interest in Badakhshan. Although at NATO operational meetings in 2015, it was frequently stated that Badakhshan was high on the agenda, the topic of conversation tended to consistently centre on Helmand. At one meeting, an official told the author that the Americans did not want to be fighting on behalf of local powerbrokers, suggesting that the Americans still believe the conflict in Badakhshan to be mainly a local one. ANA Chief of Staff, General Qadam Shah also said he thought the US was still operating on old intelligence, in particular from the Germans (who were stationed in northern Afghanistan from 2006 to 2013). He thought the Germans “told the US that the war in Badakhshan was a criminal war, a war over mines, between commanders, a narcotics war. This is outdated. Things have changed. The insurgents are active and are conducting their operations. Unfortunately NATO and the US do not believe this.”

Badakhshan, moreover, suffers from the ongoing competition for military material and capabilities – in the face of dwindling resources and a growing war: if a Humvee is sent to Helmand, it often means the force brigade in Badakhshan does not get one. Afghanistan also, to some extent, needs to compete with Iraq and Syria, particularly in the area of surveillance equipment. (7) And there seems to be a clear reluctance on the part of the foreign forces and donors to provide large amounts of military equipment, given the Afghan forces’ track record in terms of poor maintenance, theft and endemic corruption. The large amounts of equipment and weapons captured by the Taleban (or surrendered to them) often without a fight, only add to the picture.

Changes in the International Field

While Badakhshan is not seen as a priority by the US, and by extension NATO, Russia and Tajikistan have expressed increasing concern over the growing destabilisation in northern Afghanistan. In mid-January 2016, Tajikistan closed its consulates in both Faizabad and Kunduz, due to the increased insecurity. In March 2016, while the Afghan government carried out operations against the Taleban in Badakhshan, Tajik and Russian forces conducted joint operations on the Afghan/Tajik border. Assistance to the Afghan government currently consists of providing equipment, training and reinforcing the security infrastructure on the border, most notably with Tajikistan. It remains to be seen whether this will be expanded. According to sources close to the Taleban, the insurgents are likely to continue their push to control the border areas with Central Asian countries throughout 2016, possibly in an attempt to be seen as a legitimate or least ascendant power by Russia and the neighboring Central Asian countries.

In the meantime, there have also been reports that the shared concern over a growing IS threat have brought the Taleban, Russia and Iran closer together. The growing threat of IS in Afghanistan is also NATO’s main concern in Badakhshan, according to security officials. At the beginning of March 2016, the local Taleban reportedly arrested a number of suspected Daesh affiliates trying to recruit people in Jurm district, although whether this is true or not is unclear. The threat of IS in Afghanistan has often been used as a tool throughout the country by Afghan officials to try to attract western attention and support. Yet, according to a western military official, the announcement of active IS recruitment in Jurm may be premature; as Daesh is at the moment more likely to just be gathering intelligence on the dynamics in the north, than intending to start operations there.

What does the year ahead hold for Badakhshan?

Over the past year, little has changed in the province, other than a renewed commitment from the Taleban (including their foreign fighters) to continue their push for control. The ANSF have barely managed to keep the Taleban from spreading beyond Jurm, Yamgan and Warduj and have even struggled to achieve that. Local security forces, elders and powerbrokers are often caught between the two sides and continue to try to eke out the best deal for themselves, which sometimes is not much more than mere survival. The year ahead will thus be telling on many fronts: The effects of last year’s large scale attacks, like the one in Jurm, will become more evident, as will the government’s capacity and above all willingness to counter them. The security developments will not only be closely watched by the Badakhshis but also by the neighboring Central Asian countries, such as Tajikistan. Others such as Russia and Iran will keep Badakhshan on their radar, while watching for signs of the emerging of Daesh in the province. So one year after the Jurm attack and not long before the Taleban are expected to announce, and start, the 2016 spring offensive, Badakhshis have all reason to be nervously anticipating the year ahead.

* In the context of this dispatch, the term soldiers will be used to refer to any member for the ANSF, including ANA, ANP, Afghan Special Forces and ALP, unless otherwise specified as it was often not possible to discern which members of the ANSF respondents referred to.

Edited by Lenny Linke and Martine van Bijlert

Bethany Matta is a reporter and videographer based in Kabul, whose focus is mainly on northern Afghanistan.

(1) Khostak valley, still the main base of the Taleban in Jurm district today, consists of around 30 villages scattered throughout the main valley and the five sub-valleys that encircle it. The valley connects four Badakhshan districts: Zebak and Keran Wa Munjan in the south, Warduj in the east and Yamgan in the west.

(2) To add to an already troubling narrative, due to the lack of helicopters to transport the dead soldiers out of the district after they had been retrieved, their bodies sat outside for days. In some cases, it took ten days to return a body of a dead soldier to his family, the Deputy Governor Bedar told the author. Bedar, himself a physician by training, had been tasked, together with three other doctors, with reconnecting the heads of the decapitated soldiers to the bodies. Two heads were mistakenly attached to the wrong bodies, creating more agitation and adding to the already very palpable tension at the governor’s compound in the days following the attack.

(3) Military sources, intelligence and Afghan officials say that while the amount of military government equipment seized by militants certainly has added to their supplies, the real value of the seized ANSF vehicles is that they can be used as decoys in order to get close to or gain access to ANSF bases. Recently, stolen Humvees were used to attack a check post in Helmand, killing six security forces.

(4) Badakhshan was the only province in Afghanistan to firmly resist Taleban control when they ruled from 1996-2001. Locals used to point to this history to explain why there was no groundswell of support for the Taleban in the province, like in some other areas of the north, for example Kunduz. 2008 is considered the inception point of the insurgency in Badakhshan when residents first noticed a change in Warduj district. Residents recalled seeing only small groups of militants arrive at first, but then their numbers doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and by 2010 the district had been largely ‘overrun’ by the Taleban and fighting became constant. Several officials noted that Tiragon village in the south of Warduj had been particularly susceptible to extremist ideology because many children from that area had been sent across the border to Pakistan to study in madrasas. (Many Uzbek and Tajik families in northern Afghanistan send their children for madrassa education to Pakistan, mainly due to lack of development and poverty. Incentives include free room and board and often food with a small stipend.)

(5) The 16 February 2016 operations in Argo were said to also have included local militia groups (outside of the ALP framework) and what the government calls ‘uprising forces’ from Argo, Faizabad, Baharak, Warduj, Jurm, Khash, and Darayem. After the fall of Kunduz in September 2015 the government announced plans to expand the ALP program in the north and in October 2015, six months after the Jurm attack, Badakhshan received a big tashkil for “uprising forces,” a term essentially used in place of militia or armed men. However, there is little reason to believe the installment of these militias will result in anything other than short-term stability, if that.

(6) In August 2015, General John F. Campbell, the US Forces commander in Afghanistan, said that at least 4,000 Afghan security force members were deserting their posts every month due to mismanagement of staff, equipment and weapons. The ministry of interior denied this. A ministry of interior official, however, told the author that over a six-month period in 2015 more than 4,000 security force members had been killed and 6,000-7,000 wounded across all regions of Afghanistan.

(7) The US Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) system in Afghanistan is multi-layered, consisting of permanent air surveillance via security blimps attached to essential military installations, a variety of drones for specialized reconnaissance, satellite observation and high-flying surveillance planes. For non-priority areas, such as Badakhshan, the US relies on satellite observation and high-flying planes for surveillance only.

During the last fighting season, which started in April 2015, there were only 2 MI 35 (certified) assault helicopters for the whole country. Due to their frequent use and extensive maintenance needs, often only one was operational. Since then India has provided Afghanistan with an additional four MI 25 attack helicopters in November 2015.

The Afghan forces do have other helicopters, but they tend to be unfit for Badakhshan’s mountainous terrain and high altitudes, or are unable to deliver the precision targeting necessary to avoid the risk of mass civilian casualties. The military, for instance, has MI17s transport helicopters that have been retrofitted so they can also fire rockets, but they have a very limited precision and firing range. The two-dozen ND 530s aircraft that were provided by the US cannot operate in Badakhshan, because their engines do support high altitudes.



ALP ANSF foreign fighters insecurity Insurgency