This Sept. 15 image purports to show smoke rising over Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, after what a Taliban media unit said was an attack at the base.(Photo: SITE Intel Group via AP)
The Taliban terrorists who pulled off one of the most damaging
attacks of the Afghanistan War were probably trained for the plot in
Pakistan, illustrating how the U.S. ally threatens to jeopardize a
successful withdrawal, military experts say.
The attack on the
heavily defended Camp Bastion in Helmand province destroyed six U.S.
aircraft and killed two Marines on Sept. 14. One of the attackers
survived and has revealed that he received some of his training for the
plot in Pakistan, a senior U.S. military official told USA TODAY. The
official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue of
The Pentagon has long complained to the
Pakistani government and military about sanctuaries in Pakistan that put
Taliban leaders outside the reach of the U.S. military. The latest
intelligence on the Camp Bastion attack shows little has changed,
"Unless the Pakistanis do more about those insurgents
crossing the border into Afghanistan, you're going to have a critical
security challenge," said Mark Jacobson, a former NATO official in
Afghanistan at the German Marshall Fund. "It makes the situation
post-2014 more precarious than it would be otherwise."
combat forces will withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. U.S.
and Afghan officials are negotiating over a residual force that would
stay behind for counterterrorism missions and support for Afghan
Coalition and Afghan forces have weakened the
Taliban throughout southern Afghanistan, and the group's financing and
leadership inside Afghanistan have been devastated, according to NATO.
However, many Taliban leaders remain safely in Pakistan, and fighters
regularly slip cross the border to launch attacks.
The attack on
Camp Bastion displayed an uncommon amount of planning and training, said
Marine Maj. Gen. Charles "Mark" Gurganus, commander of Regional Command
"It was months in the planning," Gurganus said. "This
was not a bunch of local yahoos who were just thrown together and said,
'Hey let's go attack Camp Bastion.'"
Camp Bastion is part of a
sprawling coalition complex in Helmand province; its security is the
responsibility of British forces. On a moonless night, the insurgents
used seven bolt cutters to open a hole in a perimeter fence.
in U.S. military uniforms, they split into three five-man teams and
used a dry streambed to creep toward the flight line in sight of guard
towers, armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine
They were able to keep up a nearly four-hour firefight,
destroying six Marine AV-8B Harrier jets, damaging two others and three
refueling stations, sending flames high into the air. A coalition
counterattack killed all but one of the insurgents.
The jets cost
$24 million apiece, and total damage to the base was estimated at $200
million, according to Arizona Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on
the Armed Services Committee. He called the attack "perhaps the most
brazen and least-reported attack this year."
The dead insurgents
had spray-paint residue on their faces, suggesting they used the spray
as an inhalant to deaden their senses and get them high for a suicide
"They came here prepared to die," Gurganus said.
than 100 servicemembers responded to the attack, using numerous weapons
at the base, including a machine gun taken from the rear of an Osprey, a
tilt-rotor aircraft. Helicopter gunships fired hundreds of rounds at
insurgents from the air.
One of the Marines killed in the attack
was the Harrier squadron commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible. He
helped lead the counterattack, charging at the insurgents with only his
sidearm, McCain said.