During the early morning hours of August 3, 2020, Islamic State (IS) fighters seized a government prison in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Although members of Afghanistan's Commando Corps were quickly dispatched and established a solid perimeter, dozens of prisoners successfully escaped the facility. Reports on the ground indicate that the Commandos have retaken the complex after an intense 18-hour period of close quarters battle.
The Prison Assault and Response
The assault on the prison complex began on the evening of August 2, when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated outside of the facility's main gate. Although guards attempted to re-establish a perimeter, they were quickly overpowered when IS militants began to pour through the breach. The Afghan National Army was apparently notified of the incident as it unfolded, giving Afghanistan's command architecture a short, albeit critical period to respond.
The decision was made to deploy a combination of conventional government troops and components of the famed Afghan Commandos to restore order, secure prisoners, and breach the facility. Their operation has proven relatively successful, given that within 18 hours the prison has been recaptured, 1,000 of the 1,500 escapees have been recovered, and only isolated incidents of gunfire are being reported throughout Jalalabad.
Although operations on the part of the Islamic State have ceased and security has been restored, the human cost of the incident remains to be seen. The Intelligence Ledger has been able to confirm the deaths of 29 security personnel, civilians, and government workers. Undoubtedly the number of dead and injured will rise as sweeps of the area continue.
Impact of Incident
Members of Afghanistan's security apparatus have developed a terrible reputation for corruption, ineptitude, and cowardice. Due to incredibly low salaries, corruption in the chain of command, and tribal disputes, the Afghan government has been unable to maintain an effective fighting force. There have been times, however, when a light shines between the clouds. Today's operation is truly a testament to the Afghan Commando's skill and prowess, and ensures the unit's continued growth. Long considered by coalition advisors the cream of the crop, Commandos have routinely led offensive operations and responded to major attacks in a relatively coherent and effective fashion.
In the hours following the initial VBIED detonation, IS in Khorasan province claimed responsibility for the attack. Their statement, coupled with the Taliban's strenuous denial of responsibility, will allow the Afghan government to continue with intra-Afghan talks. With negotiations set to begin in the following days, the ability of both parties to control armed forces will be key to avoiding a major breakdown and resumption of offensive operations.
The attack highlights the growing assertiveness and enhanced capabilities of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. In fact, recent reports compiled by coalition intelligence services indicates the majority of violence in the war-torn country this year is a result of IS operations. It is likely today's operation was in retaliation for the killing of a senior IS commander by Afghan Special Forces near Jalalabad.
Since the United States and Taliban signed a deal in Doha, Qatar on February 29, there has been little progress made in talks between the Taliban and Afghan Government. The agreement called for all coalition forces to withdraw within 14 months as long as security and peace requirements were met by both the Taliban and Afghan Government. It further stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban would release up to 1,000 Afghan security forces personnel. Up to this point, however, the prisoner swap has been fraught with difficulties. A severe distrust on the part of both sides has stymied serious talks, as officials have slow-walked prisoner transfer orders. The United States has encouraged Kabul and the Taliban to put aside petty squabbles and complete the process in an effective manner.