Afghan and NATO special operations forces have killed a senior Taliban commander during a joint raid in Helmand province, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. Mullah Abdul Bari, along with 29 Taliban fighters, were killed in a “five-hour coordinated attack on four targets” in the region between the Musa Qala and Kajaki districts of Helmand province, News.com.au reported. Bari was reported to have been injured during the fighting but died of his wounds in a hospital, the Afghan Ministry of Defense stated.
Combined Joint Task Force-82, the US military command in Afghanistan confirmed the engagement, but did not confirm Bari’s death. The 1st Company of 201st Commando Kandak, or battalion, of the Afghan National Army and “Coalition forces” – a term often used for Special Forces – conducted a clear-and-hold operation designed “to establish security, disrupt insurgent activity and deny enemy sanctuary” in the region north of Musa Qala. NATO aircraft targeted and destroyed Taliban fighting positions, but no casualties were reported.
Eleven Taliban were also captured during the raid. Afghan and Coalition forces also seized over 1,000 pounds of heroin, and destroyed heroin and opium processing laboratories. A large weapons cache was also discovered and destroyed.
Bari was one of the top remaining Taliban field commanders able to launch deadly attacks in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces. He led Taliban operations against the British in northern Helmand province in the Kajaki, Musa Qala, and Baghran districts. Bari was the former governor of Helmand under the Taliban regime. He hid out in Baghran after the fall of the Taliban in 2002, and was allowed to return to his home by the then-governor of Helmand that same year.
Bari recently took credit for abducting the spokesman for the governor of Uruzgan during last year’s violent spring. He had several lieutenants under his command, including some who coordinated suicide bomb attacks against NATO and Afghan forces. Bari was thought to have been captured during the Pakistani raid on Mullah Obaidullah’s hideout in Quetta last year, but evidence was never clearly presented of his capture.
Mullah Abdul Salaam, the recently turned Taliban leader in Musa Qala, fought along side Bari prior to abandoning the Taliban in December 2007. Salaam addressed Bari’s activities at a meeting with village elders in mid-January. “Abdul Bari is our brother,” Salaam said. “He can come and sit among us. He is from this land. Speak with him. But don’t let him be stupid. If he is not on the right path then don’t let yourself be sacrificed for him. Tell him to take his jihad somewhere else.”
Northern Helmand province is a strategic region
Northern Helmand province is a strategic region and a long-time haven for Taliban forces. NATO and Afghan forces have sought to wrest the region from the Taliban for the past year. The Kajaki Dam in northern Helmand province has been a major reconstruction project, and the Afghan government hopes to restore the dam to provide energy for the region.
Operation Achilles was launched in March 2007 to preempt the Taliban’s 2007 “spring offensive” and secure the upper Helmand River Valley. A series of battles were fought in the districts of Girsk, Sangin, Kajaki, and Musa Qala. The Taliban consolidated power in Musa Qala after the British negotiated with the Taliban in late 2006 to turn the district center to “tribals.” A joint Afghan and NATO force, along with Salaam, liberated Musa Qala from the Taliban in December 2007.
Matt Dupee contributed to this report.