Recent attacks roil largely peaceful Western Afghanistan
October 31, 2010
ADRASKAN NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER, Afghanistan – A string of attacks in the relatively peaceful Herat province raises questions about security here, even as NATO leaders say some areas of the province are stable enough to begin transition to Afghan authority next year.
Two rockets were fired at the Adraskan National Training Center, about 50 miles south of Herat city, early Saturday evening but landed outside the base, according to Afghan and NATO officials here. On Friday night, a rocket also was fired at the training center — Afghanistan’s most modern police academy — but flew overhead and landed outside the wire. No casualties or damage were reported. It was the first rocket attack on Adraskan since July 2009.
About the same time Friday night, a rocket was fired at Herat province’s Shindand Air Base but also overshot its target, according to Air Force Maj. Andy Schmidt, a spokesman for Regional Support Command-West. No injuries were reported at Shindand, in the south of Herat, some 50 miles from the Iranian border.
Shindand occasionally receives indirect fire, Schmidt said Sunday, with the last attack occurring in September.
Other recent acts of violence have occurred in the area, a province largely spared the bloodshed that has wracked the country’s south and east since the 2001 U.S. invasion.On Tuesday, a district police chief and three officers were killed in Herat's Obai district by what appeared to be a remote-controlled roadside bomb.
And on Oct. 23, militants wearing suicide vests and dressed in burkas attacked the U.N. compound in Herat city.
NATO leaders repeatedly have cited Herat province as stable enough to begin transition to Afghan forces next year. President Obama has said the transition to Afghan authority will begin in July.
A week before the U.N. compound attack, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said Herat is “already a zone that could be ready” for handover, according to an Oct. 16 Agence France-Presse report. The Italians command Regional Command-West, which includes Herat.
At Adraskan, the attacks have altered the normally calm atmosphere at the base, which trains the country’s Afghan National Civil Order Police.
Italian carabinieri and U.S. Marines make up the NATO training force here, but they are confined to the base. Local Afghan security guards employed by the security contractor EODT guard the perimeter.
A platoon of Afghan police works at Adraskan and was the quick-reaction force after the attacks.
While training continued as normal Sunday, the base’s alert siren was tested and Italians were seen fortifying sandbagged positions.
Two men were apprehended in connection to Friday’s rocketing, and a car battery and wires were found at the site where a Chinese rocket was fired Friday, according to Afghan police Capt. Sami Mohammad, who heads up Adraskan’s police security platoon.
Some troops here theorized that insurgents were testing the range of the rockets in anticipation for a larger attack.
It’s unclear to what extent insurgents are infiltrating Herat province, but military commanders have said the influx of NATO forces in the south’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces would likely squeeze fighters into other areas.
Mohammad said Afghan intelligence indicates that insurgents in the area have eight more rockets at their disposal. He did not say how Afghan authorities came to that number.
While the attackers’ origins remain unclear, Mohammad said it could be the work of outsiders who have contacts in the villages near Adraskan.
Adraskan base commander Army Lt. Col. Mike King said Sunday that the attacks came as no surprise as the country is a war zone and the sprawling training base is a prime target for insurgents in the area.
Mohammad said NATO should help the local Afghan police and government units with their intelligence capability.
For now, finding and stopping any future attacks on Adraskan will fall to area Afghan police and local officials with Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security.