The Taliban and its Haqqani Network allies have released a video depicting the June 1 suicide bombing of one of eastern Afghanistan’s largest bases.
In the video, a clip of which is shown above, a group of militants pack into a squat white minibus, along with what appear to be explosives. The driver of a flatbed truck, garlanded with flowers, is shown smiling before what is presumably his final ride. A camera follows the minibus as it snakes through the security barriers outside Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost Province, just a few kilometers from the Pakistan border. Then, a giant explosion fills the screen. The camera angle appears to be hundreds of yards away, if not further; it’s a giant boom.
A calm, steady camera captures U.S. helicopters flying overhead of the wreckage. Toward the end of the video — there is another hour’s worth of footage elsewhere, according to the Long War Journal — the camera shows a destroyed black aircraft that looks like a cargo plane. It is unclear if it was damaged in the explosion.
Two U.S. troops and five Afghan civilians died in the attack on the Khost Province mega-base. At least three dozen troops were seriously wounded; about 100 others were treated for minor wounds. According to the Washington Post, the suicide attack was one of the insurgency’s largest in 2012. Not only was did the attackers use an estimated 1500 pounds of explosives, but the bomb “flattened the dining hall and the post exchange” — both of which are well within the interior of the blast walls protecting Salerno.
I spent a few days at Salerno in September 2008, when it was home to the roughly 3500 soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, and frequently under attack. It’s nestled in a bowl, staring up at foreboding mountains. The furthest of two mountain ridges to the east, which is the highest ground visible to the naked eye, lies in Pakistan. Insurgents launched rocket and mortar attacks on the base from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; a different nearby ridgeline was known simply as “rocket ridge.”
Defense officials have attributed the attack to the Haqqani Network, which is considered responsible for many high-profile attacks in the eastern provinces abutting Pakistan. Days after the assault on Salerno, troops in east Afghanistan began what will probably shape up to be the final major U.S. combat operation of the decade-long war, in Ghazni province. Gen. John Allen, the war commander, is said to want to roll back the hold the Haqqani Network has over the east before the majority of U.S. combat troops withdraw in 2014.