KABUL, Afghanistan — Some Taliban fighters hid inside a sewage tanker truck, hoping the smelly inside would forestall a detailed inspection — because it did. They rode it into a very powerful army base in Afghanistan after which hid in an empty warehouse.
Different insurgents used ladders to climb the fences, scaling two units of them, to cross a no man’s land that had as soon as been protected by movement detectors and infrared cameras however now had solely sleepy guards in watchtowers.
The infiltrators had buddies in excessive locations, as nicely, in response to Afghan and American army officers: an Afghan lieutenant colonel and a sergeant main who made certain they knew the place to go, and the place to cover on the sprawling base.
The following assault on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, on March 1, was not one of many nation’s deadliest, however it might nicely have been its most embarrassing. It was the third time the Taliban had infiltrated that base, the headquarters for the Afghan Military’s 215th Corps.
Earlier than the assault was over, 23 Afghan troopers and base staff can be useless, and the American army would as soon as once more have to come back to the rescue of a base it had lengthy since handed over to the Afghans. An American airstrike lastly ended the assault after 20 hours of combating.
Outnumbered 200 to 1, the Taliban as soon as once more delivered an object lesson that demonstrated the weaknesses of the Afghan army, within the coronary heart of a base accountable for essentially the most energetic entrance within the Afghan conflict.
The primary to die was the Afghan garrison commandant, Sgt. Sarajuddin Saraj, who owed his vital place to political connections, in response to the previous garrison commandant. The estimated 20-30 Taliban infiltrators had positioned themselves in trenches in the midst of the bottom, and as they started firing, Sergeant Saraj jumped in a automobile along with his driver and raced straight into an ambush. Each had been killed.
The insurgents took Afghan troopers hostage and made them act as guides to new targets. The militants headed straight for the corps’ command heart within the heart of the bottom, the place American advisers had been on responsibility, in response to a reconstruction of the assault offered by two American officers and confirmed by Afghan officers.
On the similar time, the insurgents launched a separate assault on an American Marine base, Camp Nolay in Sangin District, 40 miles away, as an obvious diversion, though the Marines shortly repelled it.
At Camp Bastion, American Particular Operations troops helped rally the Afghan army right into a protection. American Marines opened fireplace from watchtowers round their very own small base inside the camp, designed to guard the estimated 300 troops from insider assaults. Infrared cameras fed them real-time info because the insurgents superior from the west towards the center of Camp Bastion.
Officers provided no reason why the array of American expertise at their disposal — from overhead drones to radio intercepts — had not warned of the infiltration within the first place. However dangerous climate did hamper any air help within the preliminary hours of the assault.
Even so, it could be nicely into the day earlier than the assault was subdued, when an American airstrike destroyed the warehouse the place the Taliban attackers had taken refuge.
Earlier Marine rotations by way of Camp Bastion had warned that the evenly defended Regional Coaching Heart on the western aspect of the bottom was a possible route of assault, however apparently no motion had been taken. The suspected insiders, American officers mentioned, had been in command of that a part of the bottom.
Camp Bastion was the headquarters for the battle in opposition to the Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, an space the place extra American, British and Afghan troopers have been killed than anyplace else within the nation.
Initially constructed by the British, it was their greatest abroad base since World Conflict II. Instantly adjoining was Camp Leatherneck, a sprawling base constructed up by American Marines. At its peak, the entire base complicated included housing and amenities for as much as 30,000 troops, 600 flights a day utilizing a runway two miles lengthy that would deal with plane that would fly anyplace on the earth, base facilities like air-conditioned gyms, a Pizza Hut, a mineral water bottling plant and state-of-the-art defenses across the perimeter of the 12-square-mile facility.
However, it was infiltrated twice beneath the watch of worldwide forces.
In March 2012, a suicide bomber got here barreling by way of the perimeter fence in an S.U.V., barely lacking American and British generals who managed to leap out of the best way. These two had been ready for an additional V.I.P.: Protection Secretary Leon Panetta, whose aircraft landed simply minutes after the assault.
A number of months after that, in September 2012, insurgents lower by way of the wire fence on the jap perimeter of the bottom and destroyed six American Marine AV-8B Harrier soar jets and badly broken two others, principally wiping out a complete squadron. In addition they killed the squadron’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Christopher “Otis” Okay. Raible, and a Marine sergeant, Bradley W. Atwell. Two Marine generals had been fired after a Pentagon investigation.
The Afghans renamed it Camp Shorab after the Individuals fully pulled out and handed it over in 2014, however lots of them continued to make use of the previous identify. They managed for a number of years to forestall Taliban intrusions, at the same time as a lot of the sprawling base went unused, with vacant buildings and tent camps. The excessive tech perimeter defenses, unmaintained, fell by the wayside.
“Even when the attackers acquired assist from inside the bottom, the garrison was adequate to cease them in the event that they had been doing their responsibility correctly,” mentioned Col. Nasimullah Alishanghai, the earlier commander.
Camp intrusions had been hardly the one downside for the Afghan Military’s 215th Corps. American advisers have lengthy complained that Afghan troopers had been loath to go away the bottom, even because the Taliban expanded their attain all through Helmand Province.
Corruption dogged the corps. In 2015, its commander was fired after accusations that he had 1000’s of ghost troopers on his payroll — males who had been paid however both didn’t exist or didn’t present up for responsibility, together with some who had been useless.
Late that 12 months a brand new corps commander was appointed, and the Individuals got here again, a number of hundred Military trainers at first, plus a contingent of Particular Operations troops, and later an estimated 300 Marines.
The brand new Afghan corps commander, Gen. Moein Faqir, boasted that he had solved the ghost troopers downside, and the restricted variety of Individuals who moved again onto Camp Bastion early in 2016 gave him excessive marks.
By early the subsequent 12 months, although, Normal Faqir was beneath arrest, accused of theft from his males’s meals and munitions budgets and different types of corruption. Whilst Afghan officers had been complaining about how the Taliban had been more and more outfitted with black-market night-vision gear, dozens of units of night-vision goggles and laser sights went lacking from Normal Faqir’s division.
Normal Faqir, arrested in March 2017, is now serving a five-year jail sentence, in response to Jamshid Rasool, the spokesman for the legal professional basic.
The previous garrison commandant, Colonel Alishanghai, who retired from his put up six months in the past after operating Camp Bastion for 4 years, assault free, mentioned what occurred was a basic final result of corruption.
His alternative, Sergeant Saraj, was unqualified for the duty, he mentioned. “He was a sergeant and so they promoted him to garrison commander as a result of he knew high-ranking officers,” Colonel Alishanghai mentioned.
The performing Afghan secretary of protection, Atiqullah Khalid, visited the camp every week later, and in a speech vowed to prosecute these accountable for permitting the assault to happen.
“There isn’t any doubt there was neglect of responsibility,” he mentioned. “No matter rank or place, we’ll prosecute these accountable and forestall such incidents sooner or later.” Afghan officers say the protection secretary left the camp with no less than 5 suspects in his custody.
The results of the assault went past the 23 useless. Due to the issues that the insurgents had insider help, the American army suspended its advising and coaching of Afghan forces on the base for weeks, shifting to cellphone calls as an alternative of any in-person conferences with their Afghan counterparts, in response to two army officers.
Atiqullah Amerkhel, a army analyst and former basic, mentioned that the sense of siege had saved Afghan forces centered on staying defensive, to their detriment. “Our army officers there do not need the higher hand; they largely solely wait to answer the Taliban,” he mentioned.
The stakes are excessive. “Camp Bastion is the most important and most vital base in Afghanistan,” mentioned Ataullah Afghan, head of the Helmand provincial council. “If we safe Helmand, it means we safe Afghanistan. If we lose it, we lose Afghanistan.”