As I write this article, one of the fierce battles of Afghan forces against the so-called Pakistani Taliban in the remote district of Dangam, southeastern Kunar province is under way.
It is believed that over two thousand Taliban militias have launched a coordinated attack in the Dangam district of Kunar. Some reports have suggested that the numbers might be exaggerated and, in fact, the Taliban strength may not be more that five hundred insurgent. Having sent three days close to the frontline, I personally agree with the later number.
The conflict that started on December 14, 2014, escalated further soon after the deadly attack on a military school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. And then just a day after the Peshawar attack, top leader of the Pakistani military, Raheel Sharif, visited the afghan officials.
Later, details of the high-level meeting leaked to the media, revealed that the Pakistani military claimed to have intelligence suggesting that Mullah Fazullah, the leader of TTP was likely in Kunar. The Pakistani military accused Fatullah of being the mastermind behind the Peshawar attack, and wanted the Afghan government to hand him over.
However, it was clear that the Afghan government couldn’t submit the TTP leader, even if he was indeed in Afghanistan. But, soon after the meeting, a new wave of Pakistani militias raided Dangam, Kunar. They set fire a number of homes of the residents, beheaded some villagers, and forced nearly 600 hundred residents to leave their houses and run for their lives.
Why did the insurgents target Dangam in Kunar?
Dangam is a strategic area according the military assessment. It’s directly linked with 3 to 4 districts of the province. It means, fall of Dangam, is the fall of those other districts too. Besides, the area has a river that flows all year; a river that could be used in multiple ways.
We were told by some military men, who wished their names not be disclosed, that the fight of Pakistan’s military and it’s intelligence organization is all about reaching the Kunar river.
It’s possible that the war in Kunar is a continued proxy war by Pakistan with the long-term aim of weakening, destroying, pressuring and controlling the foreign policy of Kabul.
But even as the battle wages on, Afghan forces continue exchanging fire with the militia that positioned themselves near the mountains. The continued battle left more than 150 Pakistani militias dead, and more than 100 wounded.
It was a pretty costly war for the Afghan forces too.
The officials told us during our trip to the conflict zone that more than 6 Afghan soldiers lost their lives, with another 20 wounded, some very badly. However, the causalities of Afghan forces is far less than their enemies, but as the Pakistani militias maintains control of the top sections of the mountains surrounding the district, they hold an advantage over the Afghan forces. The war could last longer and the causalities could very likely increase. In the mean time, the roads towards the district also remain impassable.
Challenges for the Afghan forces
But, despite these obstacles, it is the lack of a proper, resolute, and continued air support that remains as the biggest challenge for the soldiers in Kunar. Nearly all of the soldiers, we’ve talked to complained of this. We also know that the Afghan military men in Kunar have frequently asked for air support, but neither the central government, nor the NATO/ISAF forces has responded to their appeals yet.
Considering the NATO has concluded its combat mission in Afghanistan, as of December 2014, it is no surprise that they’ve ignored the request. On the other hand, the Afghan central government is still not equipped to provide air support to its ground troops.
Still, there is an urgent need for a powerful air support for the forces engaged in the Kunar, and it’s becoming very clear to all now that without such a back up, little gains would be achieved there.
But, Afghan forces have showed strong resistance. They are being martyred every day, but they continue to resist with the hope that this war will be end with their victory.