"It's the worst day in our history by a mile," said an unnamed Naval Special Warfare source after the shooting down of a Chinook helicopter by the Taliban in Wardak Province of eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011. Killed in the attack were 30 US troops including 22 Navy SEAL's from the elite Team 6 which killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, six Afghan commandos and one civilian interpreter.
This was more than a major tragedy; it brought into sharp focus some of the absurdities of America's Afghanistan policy nearly ten years after it went to war to punish al Qaida for 9/11 and demolish its striking base.
A US official said the helicopter was downed by a "lucky shot" for the Taliban – probably by a rocket-propelled grenade. However, an official of President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul was convinced that luck had nothing to do with the most deadly single attack US forces had suffered since the war began.
He said a Taliban commander Qari Tahir had laid a trap for the US unit, baiting it with a tip through an informant that a high-level Taliban meeting was to take place in a certain building in a Wardak village, a destination accessible by a single route through a narrow gulley.
The insurgents took up positions on both sides of the Tangi Valley and, as the Chinook came in low, opened up with rockets and other advanced weapons until it crashed.
The Afghan official said at least four Pakistanis took part in the strike.
Another source in the Karzai circle said his government "thinks" the attack was retaliation against the SEAL's unit which killed the al Qaida leader.
US officials later confirmed that no members of that team were aboard the Chinook.
Taliban has inside intelligence, sows fear and alarm in Kabul
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence analysts deduce from this information that Taliban had inside intelligence assets keeping track of the Seals Six Bin Laden operation team and that they knew which helicopter would be flying members of this elite unit.
The inference is that Taliban's tipster was a member of the Afghan National Army unit present at the SEAL's base who relayed the information by satellite phone.
The official American instinct to turn away from this suggestive evidence and ignore the Taliban's urge to exact revenge for the Bin Laden killing stem from President Barack Obama's determination to go through with his "long retreat" policy from Afghanistan, even at the cost of dealing with the most violent elements in the region – whether the Afghan and Pakistani armies or so-called "moderate Taliban."
On June 22, 2011, President Obama announced the first token withdrawal of 10,000 troops in 2011.
The next 23,000 would be home by September 2012. Around 100,000 would remain for the final pull-out in 2014.
This timeline touched off a spate of precisely targeted Taliban outrages designed to spread fear and alarm across the country and unnerve the powers-that-be in Kabul.
On July 12, President Karzai's younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Provincial Council of Kandahar Province was assassinated in his home by one of his guards.
The following day, July 13, Kandahar was hit again when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the Sara Mosque where a crowd had gathered to honor and pray for their dead governor. The head of the provincial religious council Mawlawi Hekmatullah Hekmat and four others died.
The transition will undermine Kabul, feed into transnational terrorism
On July 17, Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior adviser to President Karzai, and lawmaker Hashim Watanwal, were killed by a pair of assailants who stormed the former's home in Kabul.
Ten days later, the Mayor of Kandahar City Ghulam Haider Hamidi was assassinated by a suicide bomber.
Wednesday, Aug. 10, Gen. John Allen, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, reported a coalition air raid on the Taliban terrorists who "fired the shot associated with" the downing of the Chinook helicopter.
But according to our sources, the birds had flown across the border to Pakistan.
Pakistan figures large in the strategy of the largest of the three Afghan Taliban groupings which dominate the insurgency. Mullah Abdullah Omar's Quetta Shura operates out of the town of that name in Pakistani Baluchistan – undisturbed by the Pakistani authorities.
The provinces where Omar's group holds sway – Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, Zabol and Paktika – have witnessed the worst violence in the war.
There is some coordination at various levels between the dominant Quetta Shura and two other groups, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami and the Jalaluddin Haqqani Network, although each has its own area of influence.
Despite US efforts, these radical forces, some backed from Islamabad, have progressively widened their areas of control in Afghanistan as, time after time, the Karzai government in Kabul and the Afghan National Army demonstrate their inability to stem the advancing tide – or even cope with Taliban attacks – without calling on foreign forces for aid.
While President Obama vowed Monday, Aug. 8, that American troops would "continue the hard work of transitioning to a stronger Afghan government and ensuring that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists" – seasoned observers predict that even the "long retreat" of US troops will inevitably leave behind it the rising threat of transnational Islamist terrorism nourished by an increasingly destabilized Pakistan.