Their mission was fairly straightforward, if not daunting.
Recapture Dawlat Abad, a district center in northern Afghanistan’s Faryab province, that had been overrun by Taliban forces.
The group of 50 elite Afghanistan special forces were to be backed up by 170 troops from the army, police and intelligence agency, who would follow up to secure it and fend off counterattacks, Stars & Stripes reported.
The day started well. The special forces defeated a small Taliban force and captured the district center around 6 a.m. Wednesday, a military official said.
But a much larger Taliban unit surrounded Dawlat Abad soon afterward and shelled the commandos, destroying their Humvees with mortar fire, he said.
The trapped soldiers called for ground and air support, but neither materialized.
Most of the 170 troops who were supposed to back up the elite fighters stayed put out of fear that the operation had been leaked to the Taliban, the report said.
“The army did not come, police did not come, NDS did not come,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. NDS is the acronym for the country’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security.
“The other forces betrayed the commandos,” he said.
At least 21 members of Afghanistan’s special forces would die in the ensuing battle, which also saw no help from US forces, who are preparing their withdrawal from the country.
One of the soldiers who died was Maj. Sohrab Azimi, a decorated, US-trained Afghan special forces officer who directed airstrikes on operations around the country, the report said.
Azimi was posthumously promoted to brigadier general, a statement by the Afghan Defense Ministry said.
While about 50 of the soldiers and police who were supposed to provide backup tried to reach the commandos, the Taliban forces in the town forced them to retreat.
Without backup, the soldiers were as good as dead, said two provincial council members for Faryab.
“How can you send only a unit of 50 commandos to an area which is under 100% control of the Taliban?” asked one of them, Abdul Ahad Elbek.
The military official and Elbek said they believe someone had informed the Taliban about the operation before it happened.
Afghan forces recaptured Dawlat Abad after the battle but pulled out soon afterward. As of Saturday, Dawlat Abad was back under Taliban control, the report said.
Meanwhile, a funeral was held Saturday in Kabul for Azimi and two other soldiers who died in the fighting in Faryab.
His father, retired general Zahir Azimi, told Stars and Stripes a day earlier that unlike most of the children of Kabul’s generals and government ministers, his son had chosen to risk his life in combat to defend his country.
Images he saw of his dead son showed that he had died “fighting face-to-face with the enemy, not running,” he said.
The Sunday before the attack, Sorhab Azimi sent a text message to friends, saying he was back in Kabul for some rest after battling the Taliban in Faryab for 50 days without a break.
But three days later, he was ordered to return to the front.
“Back to Faryab,” he said in a text message before leaving for what would be his final fight.
Major Azimi “was the best,” one of his fellow Afghan comrades observed, who spent the hours after his friend’s death in the north directing airstrikes in the south to defend the district of Gereshk. “I can’t tolerate any more my friends’ deaths.”
The special forces deaths came amid reports of districts falling to the Taliban and hundreds of Afghan troops surrendering during weeks of fighting, the report said.
The country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, announced Saturday that he will replace his defense and interior chiefs, in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding.
Trained and equipped by the US and Western allies for nearly two decades, the Afghan security forces, numbering roughly 260,000 men, should be strong enough to prevent the Taliban from seizing power in the immediate aftermath of the American military withdrawal.
Yet, the seemingly never-ending succession of battlefield setbacks that suddenly accelerated this weekend is beginning to create a perception of inevitability about a Taliban takeover, the Wall Street Journal reported.
At least 81 of Afghanistan’s 419 districts were taken over by the Taliban, mostly in northern Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley told Congress in testimony today.
About 50 kilometers south of the Tajikistan border, Kunduz city, the capital of Kunduz Province, is encircled by Taliban fighters.
Residents reported heavy fighting and problems with electricity and acquiring supplies.
“The situation is dire. There’s fighting on all sides,” Kunduz resident Assadullah Zarghood told Ganhara, reported.
“Shops are closed, people are fleeing, no one has food or water,” Abdul Majeed, another resident of the city, said.
If Kunduz falls, it would be the first provincial capital captured by the Taliban.
Meanwhile, US Forces in Afghanistan declined to say whether they had received requests for air support or if they attempted to help the commandos.
As foreign forces pull out of the country by a Sept. 11 deadline set by the Biden administration, air support for Afghan troops will likely become non-existent.
And with no guarantee of US air support, Afghan commanders are being forced to make increasingly difficult decisions about which bases and outposts to hold or abandon, leaving the civilian population at the hands of the Taliban.
To make matters worse, it could just be a matter of months before Afghanistan’s once imposing air fleet is grounded due to a lack of maintenance, according to media reports.
The White House on Sunday also announced that US President Joe Biden will meet the Afghan president and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation, which oversees the government’s negotiation team.
Friday’s meeting, according to a White House statement, is intended to re-affirm the US’s financial and humanitarian aid “to support the Afghan people, including Afghan women, girls and minorities.”
But with the current “FUBAR” situation in Afghanistan, critics are already slamming the visit as a hollow gesture which will accomplish nothing.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin assured Congress earlier this month that US air combat patrols are providing support to Afghanistan from ships in the North Arabian Sea.
While that may be the case, we do know one thing — none of those air combat patrols came to the rescue of the 50 elite Afghan commandos, who were left to die in battle.
“When the Taliban came to Dawlat Abad, they surrounded the commandos and killed them in less than an hour,” said Mohammad Hakim, a militia commander who managed to escape.
Sources: Stars & Stripes, Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, New York Times