Tal­iban units us­ing night vi­sion kill scores of Afghan po­lice­men

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD | FROM THE COVER - By Taimoor Shah and Rod Nordland

KAN­DA­HAR, Afghanistan — The new­est ad­di­tions to the Afghan bat­tle­field are fighters sport­ing Star Wars-like head­gear con­tain­ing Rus­sian-built night gog­gles, U.S.-made M-4 au­to­matic ri­fles with laser point­ers, and bulky telescopic sights made in Iran or Pak­istan.

They wear baggy shal­war kameez cloth­ing and tur­bans — and fight for the Tal­iban.

Mem­bers of an elite out­fit called the Red Unit, they may even ride into bat­tle aboard a Ford Ranger po­lice pickup truck or an ar­mored army Humvee.

The red dots from their laser point­ers shine on po­lice of­fi­cers and sol­diers from the Afghan gov­ern­ment, which has ben­e­fited from bil­lions of dol­lars in Western aid to the Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

In five night­time at­tacks in a 36-hour pe­riod Mon­day and Tues­day, fighters who ap­peared to be from such Tal­iban units killed scores of Afghan se­cu­rity per­son­nel, mostly po­lice of­fi­cers, in two prov­inces in south­ern and western Afghanistan.

Afghan au­thor­i­ties said that the in­sur­gents in these and sim­i­lar re­cent at­tacks are prov­ing to be bet­ter equipped than gov­ern­ment forces

The Red Unit has car­ried out many of these at­tacks, Afghan of­fi­cials said, of­ten us­ing stolen mil­i­tary or po­lice ve­hi­cles as Tro­jan horses to get close to bases they plan to at­tack.

“The Tal­iban now are us­ing dif­fer­ent tac­tics,” said Qu­drat­ul­lah Khush­bakht, spokesman for the gov­er­nor of Kan­da­har prov­ince. “They have their own mo­bile special forces unit which is equipped with lasers and night vi­sion gear, and they are at­tack­ing check posts and bases and then leav­ing the area as quickly as pos­si­ble to avoid airstrikes.”

Dif­fer­ing death tolls

That was the case in at­tacks into the early hours of Tues­day in two dis­tricts in Kan­da­har prov­ince, in which Khush­bakht said 23 po­lice of­fi­cers were killed and 16 in­jured in rolling at­tacks on 15 po­lice posts. Other of­fi­cials put the death toll in the Zahre and Mai­wand dis­tricts at 70 of­fi­cers.

Khush­bakht said that at­tacks be­gan when in­sur­gents drove a stolen po­lice Ford Ranger pickup truck into a po­lice post and det­o­nated explosives, then moved on to at­tack nearby bases.

Sim­i­lar tac­tics were de­scribed in a Tal­iban at­tack early Mon­day morn­ing in the western prov­ince of Farah, in which eight po­lice of­fi­cers were killed. The Tal­iban fighters used night vi­sion gog­gles, of­fi­cials said.

Two Tal­iban units at­tacked other tar­gets in Farah on Mon­day night and Tues­day morn­ing, killing three po­lice of­fi­cers at one post and 15 Afghan Na­tional Army sol­diers at an­other, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

In the Kan­da­har at­tacks, none of the po­lice posts were cap­tured and the po­lice in­flicted heavy ca­su­al­ties on the Tal­iban, said Matiul­lah Hel­lal, a spokesman for po­lice in Kan­da­har prov­ince.

A Tal­iban spokesman, Zabi­hul­lah Mu­jahid, con­tended in a tele­phone in­ter­view that the in­sur­gents had lost only one fighter.

“In face-to-face fight­ing the num­ber of our ca­su­al­ties is very low,” he said, “be­cause the mu­ja­hedeen are only do­ing face-to-face fight­ing with the en­emy when they are stronger than the en­emy.”

A po­lice of­fi­cial in the area, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause his ac­count con­tra­dicted the of­fi­cial ver­sion, con­firmed that losses by the Afghan po­lice were far worse than an­nounced, with five po­lice com­man­ders among 70 dead of­fi­cers and many of the po­lice posts com­pletely over­run by the in­sur­gents.

Laser-guided weapons

When po­lice re­in­force­ments were sent to the aid of those posts, the of­fi­cial said, “the Tal­iban were us­ing night vi­sion gog­gles and the po­lice who were sent were shot by laser­guided weapons against which they could not de­fend them­selves. The po­lice have no night vi­sion gog­gles at all.”

The of­fi­cial’s ac­count was cor­rob­o­rated by sev­eral other po­lice fig­ures, who also de­clined to com­ment on the record.

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say they sus­pect both Rus­sia and Iran are aid­ing the Tal­iban, in ad­di­tion to its tra­di­tional pa­trons in Pak­istan. Dur­ing a visit in Septem­ber to Kabul, U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said both coun­tries should know bet­ter than to sup­port the Tal­iban, as they had suf­fered them­selves from ter­ror­ist groups.

Javed Tanveer / AFP / Getty Images

An Afghan se­cu­rity force mem­ber stands guard at a check­point in the Mai­wand district of Kan­da­har prov­ince af­ter dozens of Afghan po­lice and sol­diers were killed in a wave of Tal­iban at­tacks.

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