MARZAK, Afghanistan — In the middle of the night on July 23, U.S. Special Forces infiltrated a bowl-shaped valley in Paktika Province in remote eastern Afghanistan. Their target: a major Taliban encampment just outside this, which hadn’t had a government presence in decades. Taliban fighters had been using Marzak as a rest stop on the long road between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s major cities.
What followed was “one of the biggest fights of the year” in Afghanistan, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Curtis Taylor, commander of forces in western Paktika. When the sun rose on July 24, around 100 insurgents lay dead. One American had died.
July’s Operation Marauder Rapids was a classic counter-terrorism operation, featuring fine-grain intelligence, swiftly-moving Special Forces … and plenty of dead bad guys.
But what happened next read like a page from the Army’s counter-insurgency manual. Starting in November, regular Army troops and their allies in the Afghan army and police flew into Marzak, built a new patrol base, forged ties with local elders and began recruiting and training local police.
This interplay between counter-terrorism (CT) and classic counter-insurgency (COIN) operations lies at the heart of a new, more forceful U.S. approach to defeating insurgencies that’s taking hold in eastern Afghanistan in the waning years of the decade-old war.