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Taliban attack on district near Pakistan border

A key district in the northeastern province of Nuristan bordering Pakistan could fall to insurgents unless urgent steps are taken to improve security there, local officials warned in the wake of a Taliban attack.

Kamdesh district was the site of a fierce and protracted attack by the Taliban on Friday leaving six police officers and four women dead, said Mohammad Zarin, a spokesman for Nuristan’s governor. Twenty insurgents were killed in the fighting, and 20 civilians and four police officers were wounded.

The insurgents, who included four suicide bombers, launched their attack around 3 am after crossing the border from Pakistan, targeting a number of government offices, Zarin said. He said the Afghan government failed to send reinforcements, and fighting ended hours later only after an airstrike against the insurgents by U.S.-led coalition aircraft.

“We’re deeply concerned about the security of Kamdesh,” Zarin said. “The Taliban did not succeed in capturing the district, but the next time they attack they will capture it because we won’t get support when we need it.

“Kamdesh was under serious threat,” Nuristan’s governor, Tamim Nuristani, told McClatchy, adding that the area has only 200 police officers and 120 Afghan soldiers, “and that is not enough for the security of the entire district.”

The attack at Kamdesh is the latest in a series of incidents that have undermined the Afghan government and coalition narrative that the war here is on track, and raises fresh questions about whether Afghan security forces will be able to defend their country when coalition combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

“We reported the attack to the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, and to the NDS,” said Nuristani, referring to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service. “But unfortunately, they didn’t respond to our requests for help on time.”

The Taliban in a Website statement said its members killed “as many as 25 puppets” – a reference to Afghan government security forces – in a 12-hour attack on the district police headquarters, government compound, and several army posts. Five insurgents had been killed and eight wounded, the Taliban said.

Nuristan has long been one of the most restive provinces in Afghanistan. Hundreds of insurgents attacked a U.S. outpost at Kamdesh in October 2009, killing eight U.S. soldiers and nearly over-running the base. Shortly after, the U.S. withdrew from Nuristan.

Governor Nuristani said the Taliban were using Nuristan as a “corridor” to support fighters in other provinces like Laghman and Kapisa, where they also have a strong presence, and his security forces needed better weapons as well as more personnel to cope with the insurgents.

“We can’t fight the insurgents (effectively) with the equipment we have at the moment,” said Nuristani.

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