The US military said Wednesday that US troops killed “dozens” of Taliban leaders when a US artillery barrage struck a meeting of insurgent commanders on May 24.
US military officials said the strike took place after US military intelligence assets were able to monitor Taliban commanders following their major attack on the Afghan city of Farah, a well-coordinated assault in which the Taliban managed to overrun the police security cordon surrounding the provincial capital before they were repelled by US and Afghan troops in an intense battle.
The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said the retreating Taliban leaders were observed attending a meeting of other leaders in Musa Qala in Helmand Province, an area under the Taliban’s control.
Nicholson said the highest ranking insurgent killed in the strike was the deputy shadow governor of Helmand.
“It was a group of commanders, meeting in part to discuss the operation in Farah that many of them had just participated in,” Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday via a teleconference from Kabul.
The US Marines “tracked 50 of them to a meeting in Musa Qala and struck them with HIMARS rockets, killing dozens of the enemy leaders,” he added.
“Among the more than 50 casualties was the deputy shadow governor of Helmand, multiple Taliban district governors, intelligence commanders and key provincial-level leadership from Kandahar, Kunduz, Herat, Farah, Uruzgan and Helmand provinces,” the US military said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The artillery strike was carried out by US Marines firing the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, more commonly known by its acronym, HIMARS.
US Marines in Afghanistan are based in Helmand Province, where they primarily advise and assist Afghan troops battling the insurgency.
Nicholson said the major attack on Farah earlier this month was carried out by the Taliban in order to distract from its setbacks in Helmand, an area which he said was key to the Taliban’s finances due to the presence of the group’s narcotics operations there.
He also said that a major focus of the security assistance effort in Afghanistan is now aimed at better defending the country’s capital of Kabul where approximately five million Afghans live.
Nicholson lauded the performance of the Afghan police Wednesday saying they were able to stop a coordinated attack on the Interior Ministry in downtown Kabul on Wednesday.
While the attackers, using a captured Humvee and military uniforms, managed to penetrate the security corridor, Nicholson noted that during the firefight Afghan special police commandos from the country’s Crisis Response Unit 222 managed to kill seven of the eight attackers and capture the remaining one. One Afghan policeman died in the attack, which Nicholson said is initially assessed to have been carried out by the Taliban’s Haqqani Network.
While Nicholson said that the number of car bombs in Kabul had decreased, the local ISIS affiliate had increased the number of suicide bomber attacks against civilians. He said that additional efforts had been made to strengthen the Afghan security forces and their ability to protect Kabul including deploying additional US military advisers from the new Security Force Assistance Brigades, units touted by the US military as critical to the success of the campaign.
But despite the strikes against the Afghan leaders, Nicholson also acknowledged that since February the Taliban had managed to capture five rural districts from the Afghan government while saying that Afghan troops managed to recapture all of them within 10 days.