Analysis of Taliban Firing Positions in OEF

Due to the efforts of ISAF forces during Operation Enduring Freedom, Taliban fighters had to change their tactics constantly to stay tactically ahead of coalition efforts. Because of the reliance on fire support assets and modern armament that much of ISAF could afford, the Taliban in Helmand and Kandahar provinces couldn’t sustain a protracted fight as they could against ANA or AUP positions. Thus the insurgent force had to adapt and overcome. One of the ways in which they employed small arms against ISAF forces was through their usage of compounds and firing positions. Being in Helmand or Kandahar, firing from an open position or fields is almost certainly suicide against ISAF forces because of the lack of egress routes and being cut down. Thus, many Taliban fighters adopted the technique of utilizing “murder holes” as firing positions from compounds. Most of these compounds were taken over from the families that owned them, often threatening them with death if they spoke to coalition forces about the compound’s usage.

Compound/housing structures in rural southern Afghanistan have a number of advantages for maneuver insurgent warfare. Because the walls are made from mud, they can have holes busted through them to use as firing ports, but at the same time can be extremely resistant to incoming rounds, even up to .50 BMG. These compound walls can be anywhere from six feet to twelve feet in height and easily conceal the numerous motorcycles that the Taliban used. Motorcycles are essential for the kind of “shoot n’ scoot”maneuver warfare because of the ease of transportation and the possibility of swiftly getting away from lumbering  MRAPs and MAT-Vs along twisting narrow roads. In addition, a single PKM machine gun team could be concealed and broken up among three or five motorcycle driving Talibs. One carrying the receiver, another the barrel, another the ammunition. This way, all three could move to a new firing location discreetly, and most importantly separately.

The Taliban’s worst threat was being fixed in place and destroyed. The force knew that it could not sustain a long drawn out, small arms fight even against a single ISAF patrol. Once their position has become known, the key to surviving a protracted fight is to quickly pick up, mount up, and push to another firing position to further engage the patrol, preferably from a completely different angle than the first one. The problems thus presented to the ISAF patrol were twofold. One the one hand, it would be very difficult to determine the source of the fire, especially if it was from a PKM beyond 400-600 meters. And second, even if the Taliban location was found and positive identification was made, the patrol would have to maneuver around to get into a position to return accurate rifle and light machine gun fire, by which time the PKM position would already be broken down, and repositioned at a completely different angle to the patrol. This entire scenario is also not even taking into account the IED threat that complex ambushes would often be initiated with, thereby adding another layer of complexity to the mix of that ISAF patrol maneuvering.

Firing positions themselves are very well thought out. As an example in the title photograph, typically Talib fighters will use a pre-existing “murder hole” or they will create one themselves as the other photograph shows. Using blankets, they will place them underneath the PKM, and then on the base of the murder hole as well. This way, the ground blanket will catch all the spent shells, and the murder hole blanket will prevent the PKM from leaving black residue on the caked mud. When the MG team leaves the position, all they have to do is wrap up the blanket with shells in it, then use the murder hole blanket to conceal the PKM parts in it and the firing position will appear to have been relatively unoccupied even if an ISAF patrol were to literally get to it after a firefight.

And to conclude this analysis, this a Talib fighter wearing a Marine Corps woodland digital utility jacket!

Note- The title photograph of the firing position is actually of Government ALP fighters, and not Taliban fighters. This photograph was used because it does display what the TTPs that the Taliban utilize. 

Miles is the founder, editor, and local Khan governing Silah Report. He is quite found of obscure languages, dangerous locales, and fascinating small arms designs and uses.

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