05 June 2014

The Taliban's Last Stand

There is a very curious building here at KAF. On official maps of the installation, it is labeled "TLS."

Taliban’s Last Stand, is what it refers to. And it fits. The night we arrived, it was the first building through which we passed. Not the most comforting welcome, since it’s as decrepit as any building could be without getting condemned.

It is of brick and stucco construction, with arched ceilings. There is still evidence of a fire or an explosion, and part of the roof is destroyed. It is in general disrepair, with no indication that anyone wants to do anything about it. Yet, it serves as a passenger terminal for folks coming to this bastion of Americna military power.

There are even pocks on the outer walls that look like they took rounds in a firefight. The name and the lore gives the impression that there was some final, Alamo-style battle at this place before the US finally drove out the enemy and established its foothold in southern Afghanistan.

Journalists refer to the place with bravado to show their bona fides. People arriving here probably all assume that it was only recently attacked and hastily convereted, as if the war is still imminently upon them.

I tend to be skeptical about stories that sound too cool.

So I did some research.

It is pretty well established that the Taliban maintained nominal control over Kandahar, including the airport, up until December, 2001.

Kandahar, in fact, was the base for the Taliban. Al Qaeda training site called Tarnac Farms, just a couple kilometers south of the air field, was certainly a holdout for bad guys, and it is rumored that 9/11 may have been planned there.

But what happened at TLS in the opening stanzas of the War on Terror? The building surely looks like the Alamo in many respects, only more weather-beaten. The apparent bullet scars, the crumbling brick, the soot.

Here's the story, according to reporting done at the time.

Mullah Omar had an office in Kandahar City, it was the center of the Taliban's poltical base. Naturally the US and our allies (Hamid Karzai and Gul Agha Sherzai in the south) wanted to take the city.

Sherzai was attacking from the south, approaching Kandahar. Karzai was attacking from the north. By early December, he was in a town called Tarin Khost, about 60 miles outside the city. The allies were rolling, and Karzai began surrender negotiations with the Taliban. 

A Taliban delegation went north to meet Karzai, where they finalized surrender terms on December 5. That same day, in Bonn, an international conference named Karzai the "Intermin Chairman" of Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar's facilities had been bombed (perhaps TLS was one?). Those bombs had a lot to do with getting the Taliban to think about surrendering, I assume. But they were also buying time to escape. By offering surrender, many leaders were left to pack up and pop smoke.

According to an unclassified KAF fact sheet, Kandahar Airport "was severely damaged when it was captured by the US MArines 26th MEU in mid-December.... TLS still containts vivid reminders of the first minutes of that famous battle of the Taliban Last Stand."

So far as I can tell, there was never an engagement between US or NATO forces and the Taliban at this particular site. It seems the nickname was derived from the fact that the enemy used it as a base and it was near the area-- Kanadahar City and Airport-- that they gave up last.

Of course, it is evident that the building took heavy ordnance, though whether the enemy was stubborn, brave, or curious enough to see what Marines small arms fire was like after living through a JDAM blast is undocumented, as far as I have been able to tell.

At any rate, Karzai took Kandahar. He probably got to TLS and realized he didn't want it. The capital was promptly relocated to Kabul. 
Now we are here holding down the fort. This will be my last stand.

Note: this was updated 28 AUG to include the paragraph that cites the unclassified KAF fact sheet.

1 comment:

  1. Taliban's Last Stand makes it sound like an incredible, must-see historical site, but your truthful reporting takes some of the romanticism out of it. It's kind of like that Seinfield episode where Kramer discovers that the fat free ice cream everyone loves is not really fat free... nobody really thanks him for it. I kind of WISH it were the Taliban's real Last Stand location, not just some random base.