The US military targeted a Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan who was behind the kidnapping of a Norwegian journalist in November.
The Taliban commander, who is known as Haji Mohammad Dawran Safi or Qari Dawat, was the target of a November 26 airstrike in the eastern province of Kunar. Qari Dawat “is known for attacking innocent civilians in the Kunar region, as well as international forces and bases,” the US military noted in a press release on Nov. 27, one day after the strike. Qari Dawat was not named, however.
An Afghan Police commander confirmed the airstrike and said Qari Dawat was among four Taliban fighters killed, Pajhwok Afghan News reported. A relative of Qari Dawat told Pajhwok that he survived the attack but that his wife, two children, and two neighbors were killed. A report in the Afghan Islamic Press, a pro-Taliban news organization based in Peshawar, also reported that Qari Dawat survived.
The US military has not confirmed Qari Dawat was killed in the Nov. 26 strike.
Qari Dawat is loyal to the senior Taliban leadership and was behind the recent kidnapping of Paul Refsdal, a Norwegian journalist.
Refsdal was kidnapped in Nuristan on Nov. 5 and released six days later under suspicious circumstances. No ransom was received to secure Refsdal’s release, Qari Dawat told New Time International, a Norwegian newspaper. Norway’s Foreign Ministry also denied paying a ransom.
Instead, Qari Dawat claimed Refsdal was released after he converted to Islam.
“Yes, it was a small ceremony,” Qari Dawat told the newspaper, describing Refsdal’s conversion. “We invited some ulemaer [religious scholars, clerics], he washed himself [by Islamic rules], dressed in shalwar kamiz [traditional Afghan dress] and recited al-kalima [the Islamic creed in the Koran]. This was two days after he was captured.”
Qari Dawat also claimed Refsdal had previously studied Islam and was sympathetic to the Taliban’s battle against the Afghan government and ISAF.
“He told us that he already had studied Islam,” Qari Dawat said. “He felt good for our religion, and while he was in our custody, he realized maybe Islam’s kindness: He saw that we were good people, who fight for our religion and our country, for our freedom. He was impressed and converted.”
Refsdal would neither confirm nor deny he converted to Islam, but only stated he was tricked by the Taliban to visit the area. He said the Taliban demanded a $500,000 ransom.
During the interview with New Time International, Qari Dawat confirmed his allegiance to the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
“Yes, we are with the Taliban, and we are under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar, but we have our own groups,” Qari Dawat said. “We have separate structures, and we are in Kunar province.”
Since the Nov. 26. attack, the US has conducted three targeted strikes in Kunar.
A raid on Dec. 2 by US Special Forces and Afghan commandos reportedly killed Taliban commanders Maulvi Maseehullah and Tawab, two Taliban fighters, and two al Qaeda operatives in the village of Sangar in the contested district of watahpur. Al Qaeda embeds members of its Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, with Taliban units to provide expertise and training.
An airstrike on Dec. 7 that targeted a Taliban complex in the village of Tsangar Darah, also in watahpur, killed Taliban commander Noor Akbar and dozens of his followers.
The Taliban claim to control several districts in Kunar and Nuristan after US forces withdrew from several remote combat outposts last month as part of General Stanley McChrystal’s plan to refocus counterinsurgency efforts in more populated areas.