|SBS behind Taliban leader’s death
THE one-legged Taliban commander whose death was hailed as a coup for coalition forces in Afghanistan was killed in an attack by British troops rather than Americans and Afghans as previously claimed.
Mullah Dadullah, the bearded warlord who lost his leg fighting the invasion of Soviet “infidels” in the 1980s, was cornered by a squadron from Britain’s Special Boat Service (SBS), after a remarkable surveillance operation mounted against his brother. The SBS has been charged with carrying out special operations in Afghanistan while the SAS concentrates on Iraq.
Until now, the killing had been attributed to a joint American-Af-ghan force of special operation troops but defence sources revealed last week that the US contribution, although a key to success, was limited to intelligence from a secret unit called Task Force Orange, which was monitoring a satellite phone used by Dadullah.
How the task force came to be tracking the powerful mullah’s movements is a story of military cunning and opportunism. It began with an exchange of prisoners which, at the time, had all the appearance of a humiliating setback for coalition forces.
The release of Daniele Mastro-giacomo, an Italian journalist kidnapped by Taliban militants in March, in exchange for five Taliban fighters – including Mullah Shah Mansoor, Dadul lah’s brother – raised eyebrows throughout the region.
It was a doubly controversial deal. First, it did not include Mas-trogiacomo’s Afghan translator – and to calm dissent in government ranks President Hamid Kar-zai was obliged to promise that it was a “one-off”. At the same time, the release of such a high-ranking Taliban leader as Dadullah’s brother appeared to go against coalition policy.
Task Force Orange took advantage of the situation by using sophisticated signals technology to monitor Mansoor’s movements. In this way he was followed back to a Taliban training base in Quetta, Pakistan.
A satellite phone used by Dadullah’s men then came under surveillance and the signal was followed when the group set off two weeks ago from Quetta to Afghanistan. The convoy led by Dadullah – and believed to include Mansoor – was tracked to Brahmcha in the southern Helmand province close to the border with Pakistan.
On the basis of such intelligence, Task Force Orange would normally have summoned Delta Force, the American special operations group, to launch a strike on the mudwalled compound in which the fighters were hiding. Delta was occupied elsewhere, however, and it fell to crack British troops – SBS’s C squadron – to finish the job.
A reconnaissance team in a Supacat 6x6 all-terrain vehicle moved in to watch the compound and work out how best to attack it. It was decided that an airstrike by itself would not be certain of killing Dadullah so the rest of the squadron, in two Chinook helicopters, was called in.
Alerted by the noise, the Taliban defenders began shooting at the helicopters which, in addition to the British soldiers, carried a number of Afghan troops. The element of surprise was lost and a four-hour battle ensued.
The sky lit up with tracer bullets and rocket-propelled grenade fire as the Taliban, although fewer than 20 in number, put up spirited resistance before being overwhelmed. “It was traditional infantry tactics,” said a defence source. “Give fire and run, give fire and run, constantly manoeuvring for the best position.”
Dadullah appeared to have been killed by one of the US-trained Afghan soldiers. The two wounds to his chest and one to the back of his head had all the hallmarks of a classic US special operations shooting – a so-called “double tap” to the chest and a “finisher” shot to the head.
Also among the dead were suspected members of Al-Qaeda, said the sources. The dead were believed to have included Mansoor but this was denied by the Taliban who have named him as their new military leader.
The Taliban claimed “an American spy” had hidden Dadullah’s false leg to prevent him from taking part in the fight.
This did not seem credible, however, and the Afghan intelligence service gave the game away by releasing a statement announcing that Dadullah was followed from the Pakistani border “with [the] most modern intelligence technology”.
Dadullah’s death was a significant triumph for coalition forces. As a senior Taliban commander, he won a reputation for ruthless-ness after ordering the massacre of thousands of Hazaras in the northern Bamiyan region. More recently he had appeared to try to mimic the actions of hardline Iraqi insurgents such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by putting a video of a 12-year-old boy beheading an American spy on the internet. Zarqawi was also tracked down and killed as a result of a Task Force Orange intelligence operation.
Four of the 50 British commandos who took part in the battle were wounded but only one had to be brought back to Britain.
In spite of Taliban threats o