Covert Special Operations by the Taliban in Kandahar: An Analytical Reading

It has been more than seventeen years since America invaded the graveyard of empires- Afghanistan- with the unwavering support of forty-two allies, the foremost being NATO. After a decade and a half of counter-insurgency operations, and in the face of successive defeats suffered at the hands of the Taliban and their allies, there is still no end in sight to America’s quest for a face-saving exit from the Afghan quagmire.

Hardly an hour passes without an attack against the occupier or its local proxies across the length and breadth of the country. These attacks rely on a large variety of military tactics- moving and fixed fronts, guerrilla ops in all its shades, and most importantly complex covert ops that call for intensive planning and diligent preparation. The tactics in questions almost always carry a distinct Afghan touch- a most unique combination of military genius and mature political thinking. It is a uniquely Afghan trait that has matured through decades of war against powerful invading empires- Britain, the Soviet Union, America and NATO. It is most likely that America and NATO would meet the fate of Britain and the Soviet Union and all invaders before them who withdrew from Afghanistan after testing their strength against generations of Mujahideen hailing from the mountains of Hindu Kush, the deserts and plains of Kandahar, the forests of Kunar and Nuristan, and the plains of Ghazni and Khost.

In this article, we shall try to briefly analyze a complex covert operation carried out recently in Afghanistan. During the past week, the historic capital of the Taliban- Kandahar- witnessed a carnage in the ranks of the military leadership of the Afghan government and its American overlords. Several generals of the Afghan and Allied forces have reportedly been killed in these operations. The most stunning attack was carried out at the conclusion of a top-level meeting of American and Afghan generals inside the Governor’s compound in Kandahar. This green-on-blue-and-green attack was executed by one of the bodyguards of the governor, a young man in his early twenties who had reportedly joined the security services specifically for this task. According to media reports, this insider attack achieved the following key objectives for the Afghan Taliban:

General Abdul Raziq

The attack eliminated America’s kingpin in the region,. This brutal warlord was in the forefront of fighting the Taliban alongside the Americans right since 2001. His stature as an agent grew with time until he became America’s most trusted man in southern Afghanistan. American intelligence and military had invested in him for seventeen years, and there was a real possibility that he would emerge as a Presidential candidate in the years to come, since he hailed from the majority Pashtun ethnicity and belonged to the influential tribe of ‘Achakzai’ that lives along the southern border with Pakistan.

He was a remnant of a generation of warlords who had brutally ruled large swathes of the country after the Russian defeat. His father and uncle were famous warlords, both killed by the movement in their early campaigns. Abdul Raziq, a teenager then, escaped the sword of the Taliban and was able to find refuge in Pakistan. When the Americans invaded Afghanistan, they found in him a most reliable ally. He was initially tasked with organizing a militia and fighting the Taliban and its allies in al-Qa’eda in the fighting in Kandahar. Gradually, while still in his early thirties, he rose in the ranks to be designated as a ‘general’. Abdul Raziq had gained increasing notoriety for his brutal talents in torturing both ordinary Afghan civilians and captured Taliban prisons. Human rights organizations and the United Nations would sometimes pay lip service to his victims by issuing softly worded condemnations of this war criminal who was effectively America’s No.1 man in southern Afghanistan. However, the Taliban were lying in wait to relieve his victims and Kandahar itself from his brutal ways.

General Jeffery

General Jeffery, NATO’s Chief of Operations in Southern Afghanistan, was seriously injured in the attack and immediately shifted to Germany for treatment. It is interesting to note that NATO did not announce the injury of the American General in its initial statement. Several days after the incident, it was mentioned in passing that General Jeffery had been injured in the attack as well. This has fueled suspicions about the fate of a more important American General present at the scene of the attack, General Scott Miller, Head of NATO in Afghanistan. Since the attack, General Miller is yet to appear in public. This increases the probability of General Miller being among the casualties and hence NATO’s hesitation in admitting the truth, at least for now. The information leaked by CNN about the attack reveals that General Miller was forced to load his pistol during the attack inside the governor’s compound. It is extremely rare for a general to be forced to do this. Former American officers commented that they do not recall a similar incident taking place in any of America’s contemporary wars. In fact, the targeting of such a high-level meeting attended by the American military leadership has no parallels, except perhaps for the targeting of the Pentagon on 9/11.

Several American soldiers and contractors were among the casualties. Here, we must mention something important about American military protocols. The American military is only bound to declare the casualties that take place in the ranks of its soldiers and officers; as for intelligence agents, specifically the CIA and civilian contractors, their contracts clearly state that no official announcements shall be made if they were to be killed in the course of military operations. One can well imagine the number of American intelligence personnel and contractors from security firms usually present at such a high-level meeting.


The Governor of Kandahar, Zalmai Waisa, the Head of Intelligence in the South, the Police Chief for the South, General Nabi Ilham and several high-ranking military and intelligence officials of the American-sponsored Afghan government were killed in this attack. Thus this attack dealt a heavy blow to American projects in Afghanistan and its influence will be felt not just locally, but in the region as well.  

This was a brief overview of the military losses suffered by the Americans, NATO and its local allies. As for the political repercussions of this attack, they are no less significant than its military impact:

The attack was timed perfectly to occur between two important political events. It occurred days after the first meeting between the representatives of the Taliban with the Americans. The latter have finally accepted the Taliban’s longstanding demand of direct negotiations without the involvement of the Afghan government. This willingness to negotiate directly in itself indicates an admission of defeat in the Afghan theatre and a desperation to bring this conflict to an acceptable end. For over a decade, the Americans had been adamant that any negotiations that take place must be between the Taliban and the regime installed by the occupation. However, the Taliban had always rejected this condition, insisting that their conflict was essentially with the occupying forces who must withdraw their forces from the Afghan soil down to the very last soldier, and that the only acceptable alternative for the movement is an Islamic government in Afghanistan that rules in conformity with the Shariah. From the point of view of the Taliban, the government in Kabul lacks any authority or legitimacy to be part of a dialogue process or to even sit on the negotiations table alongside the occupier. History has proven time and again that the occupation does not accept negotiations unless it is convinced that it is on the brink of defeat and a total collapse of the client regime is imminent. This special operation sent a clear-cut message to the Americans that they must fulfill the demands of the Taliban and withdraw their forces at the earliest because the situation has become increasingly threatening on the ground, for it is not just the local proxies of the Americans and ordinary American soldiers who are in the crosshairs of the Taliban, but three and four star American generals as well. It was a stark warning most effectively conveyed to the Americans that if they fail to withdraw, worse nightmares may be lying in wait.

The attack preceded the parliamentary elections through which the occupying forces seek to implement their political agenda and sow political discord amongst Afghan ethnicities and tribes. Just two days before the elections, this operation broke the spell that had been cast on the Afghan scene. The entire process turned out to be a farce with very low voter participation. In fact, in several districts the elections were cancelled citing ‘security concerns’. In Kandahar itself, the elections were postponed to allow for a recovery from the shock of consecutive assassinations in a span of just one week. The occupying forces were forced to send six thousand troops to Kandahar to manage the crisis that had been created, perhaps hoping to force part of the population connected to the regime to participate in the elections and project a positive image in the media. In reality, this was the worst reversal suffered by the so-called democratic process in Afghanistan since 2001.

Only a few hours after the operations, the political and military leadership in America issued a barrage of statements to mitigate the psychological impact of the operation on the occupying forces and its allies. The American Secretary of Defense stated that it was still early to say whether the attack would have any impact on the voter turnout. However, his worst nightmare turned out to be the reality on the ground. The elections proved to be a damp squid throughout Afghanistan- no elections whatsoever in Taliban controlled districts and a record low voter turnout in government controlled areas. The encouraging pictures of voter turnout that were flashed in the media were taken in highly protected security zones such as Kabul and the major cities. The American Secretary of State added that Afghanistan had lost a major ‘patriot’ (agent) but that this would not leave any impact in the long term. The bitter reality remains that operations such as these leave a strong impact in the long term not just in Afghanistan but at the regional level. It will force the Americans to carry out a serious policy review, for it is the top echelon of the military leadership that is at stake now. As for the conservative right wing Secretary of State, he claimed that the attack in Kandahar goes against the aspirations of the Afghan people who wish to see stability! The truth is that this attack has brought the Afghan people closer to independence and liberation from the occupier. A return of the Islamic system is evermore closer to a nation that has never accepted anything other than Islam since Islam’s arrival in this region in the era of the Companions.

After this attack, the American military leadership issued an order which exposes the degree of mistrust and fear in the ranks of the occupation. American soldiers and officers have been ordered to maintain contact with Afghan forces only through the wireless or written correspondence and avoid all sorts of direct contact with the Afghan National Army. This decision reminds one of the situation mentioned in the Abbottabad documents, according to which the insurgency had been forced to maintain contacts only through written correspondence due to the intensity of drone strikes. It appears that the Americans have been repaid in the same coin. What an interesting reversal of fortunes!

To be honest, this incident demands a comprehensive study, for its repercussions are as complicated as the operation itself. In this brief article, it would be difficult to cover the full scope and impact of these assassinations, but to conclude I would like to mention two important points:

This operation revealed the extent of infiltration by the Taliban in the ranks of the occupation and its agents in the region. These green-on-blue and green-on-green attacks continue to occur with increasing lethality and complexity. This approach reveals the success of the Afghan Taliban in countering the soft-power tactics of the occupation, which we had mentioned in an earlier article. The young man who infiltrated enemy ranks took several years to reach his target. This demands immense patience, determination and flexibility. To be honest it is difficult to comprehend the military genius, brilliance, morale and immense faith it takes to successfully execute such operations, but it comes as no surprise from a nation who have these qualities in their genes. Here, it would equally be worth recalling the special operation carried out by the allies of the Afghan Taliban in Khost in 2009. The operation, executed by a Jordanian doctor, Hamam al Balawi, resulted in the killing of CIA’s Station Chief in Afghanistan along with several other officials.[1]

To conclude, I would like to offer a piece of advice to the revolutionaries, the Mujahideen in Syria. They should select some of their military and political cadres and send them to Afghanistan to gain practical experience in confronting occupation from the masters of this art, the humble black turbaned Afghans. The Afghans possess a decade of experience in fighting and defeating your enemy- the Russians on the Afghan soil, the school of Jihad and Mujahideen in this age. And if this is not possible, you may benefit from your contacts with them or from the seasoned leadership in Syria that has prior experience in the Afghan theater. This is even more critical since the coming stages of the Syrian conflict requires an overview of the current strategy and a mastery of the tactics that have been put to effective use in Afghanistan.


(Source: Qira’a Tehleeleeya fi Amaliya Taliban al Amnia fi Qandahar).

[1] . Source: Book (the story of the operation, executed by a Jordanian doctor, Hamam al Balawi)

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