US hunts wanted Taliban and al Qaeda commander in Kunar


NE-Afgh-Qari-Ziaur-Rahman-thumb.gif

Qari Zia Rahman and a map of northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Map from the Asia Times; click to view.

Afghan security forces backed by Coalition forces air assaulted yesterday into an area in eastern Afghanistan that has served as "a safe haven and staging base" for the Taliban and al Qaeda. And for the first time, the US military has identified Qari Zia Rahman as the top Taliban and al Qaeda commander for the region.

A combined Afghan and US force of about 400 conventional and border police along with US troops air assaulted into the town of Chenar in Marawara district in Kunar "to further disrupt insurgent operations throughout the area," the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. There have been no reports of enemy or allied casualties.

"The Afghan National Security Forces executed a well-planned, well-executed strike, taking the fight to the enemy once again," said Lieutenant Colonel Randall Harris, the deputy commanding officer of Task Force Bastogne, said. "Marawara is safer today due to their skill and devotion to the security of the people."

The US military and Afghan forces began to target Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Marawara on June 27, when a battalion-sized force of about 700 troops and policemen air assaulted into Marawara. More than 150 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are said to have been killed in the fighting, which lasted for several days.

Marawara lies directly on the border with Pakistan, and borders the Bajaur tribal agency, a known haven for Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda. Ayman al Zawahiri is known to have sheltered in Bajaur with Faqir Mohammed, the top Taliban leader in the tribal agency and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Bajaur has also been used by al Qaeda as a command and control center for operations in the northeast.

ISAF identified Marawara as "a safe haven and staging base for insurgents under the command of Qari Zia ur-Rahman, a Taliban leader and known member of Al Qaeda operating in Kunar Province." Qari Zia's forces "are responsible for threats and attacks against both Afghan civilians and Coalition forces."

"He claimed responsibility for the female suicide bomber that injured two Afghan children and killed two US soldiers [on] June 21," ISAF stated.

Today's ISAF press release contains the first recorded mention of Qari Zia in a US military press release, and is part of the US military's recent push to directly identify terrorist activities with Pakistan-based groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba [see LWJ report, US military begins to link Afghan Taliban to Pakistani terror groups].

Qari Zia Rahman is the Taliban's top regional commander as well as a member of al Qaeda. He operates in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province in Afghanistan, and he also operates across the border in Pakistan's tribal agency of Bajaur. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government claimed they killed Qari Zia in an airstrike, but he later spoke to the media and mocked Pakistan's interior minister for wrongly reporting his death.

Qari Zia is closely allied with Faqir Mohammed as well as with Osama bin Laden. Qari Zia's fighters are from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and various Arab nations. He commands a brigade in al Qaeda's paramilitary Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

The top al Qaeda commander in Kunar province is Abu Ikhlas al Masri, an Egyptian who has spent years in Afghanistan and has intermarried with the local tribes. Abu Ikhlas is al Qaeda's operations chief for Kunar province, having assumed command after Abu Ubaidah al Masri was promoted to take over al Qaeda's external operations branch (Abu Ubaidah died in early 2008 of a disease).

Sources:

Afghan, ISAF Forces Secure Eastern Afghan Town, ISAF press release
Afghan, US forces launch offensive in Kunar, The Long War Journal
Taliban commander linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba detained in eastern Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
US military begins to link Afghan Taliban to Pakistani terror groups, The Long War Journal
Egyptian al Qaeda leader reported killed in South Waziristan airstrike, The Long War Journal
Top Taliban, al Qaeda leaders reported killed in Mohmand airstrikes, The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army', The Long War Journal



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READER COMMENTS: "US hunts wanted Taliban and al Qaeda commander in Kunar"

Posted by ArneFufkin at July 20, 2010 12:21 PM ET:

These Salafist punks just exude evil in their every countenance.

They're the first ones to send emotionally retarded 15 year olds into crowds with suicide vests yet they don burquas to escape danger themselves. Cowards, sociopaths and perverts all (I know, I know Zeissa lol).

I know the operating philosophy is that we cannot kill enough of these guys to win the Long War, but it sure is nice to see animals like this eliminated with just and violent prejudice.

C'mon, Obama, pick up the tempo of the Waziristan bounty hunting again! Let's quit sending $BILLIONS to Pakistan and send more Predators and Reapers - and maybe a couple of B-2 Spirits - there instead.

Posted by Jamaluddin at July 20, 2010 3:15 PM ET:

QZR was captured once by the Pakistan authorities in 2007...held for 3 months and let go. Pretty typical of the catch and release policy of Pakistan and unfortunately of the US in Bagram and Gitmo. How many Gitmo former detainees are recidivists?

US Military...you have a job for life...called Whack-a-mole.

Posted by Setrak at July 20, 2010 6:58 PM ET:

I think the administration has its reasons for deciding "the tempo" of drone strikes. It might relate to the on-the-ground situation in both North Waziristan and the Wana/western region of South Waziristan, where the Waziri/"good" Taliban are based.

In the Wana region there was a major drop in drone strikes for awhile starting late last year, as Roggio can attest to; much of this appeared to have been the result of diplomacy. Mullah Nazir may have gotten that decrease/pause in drone strikes in exchange for his neutrality in Operation Rah-e-Najat against the Mehsud/Pakistani Taliban. Those strikes have since resumed, and tension between the Pakistani state and the militants in the region appears to be rising. Part of the reason for that is a recent drone strike that killed non-local militants, providing ample and indisputable evidence that foreign militants such as aQC and other non-locals like "the Punjabi Taliban" are being sheltered in the region in violation of the peace agreement.

The Pakistani army also got an excuse to get soldiers inside of both the Wana region and North Waziristan as a result of that peace deal struck with Hazir Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir last year. Relative to a year ago, or perhaps any other time in the past decade, the Pakistani army is very well positioned if they wanted to crack down on the militants in those regions. This is especially so if they want civilian-nuclear cooperation with the U.S..

Ultimately three things must be remembered. If Pakistani is planning to go into the "good"/Afghan-focused Taliban regions then they probably would want to keep everyone guessing for as long as possible while they try dealing with the Pakistani Taliban; they are incrementalists, and have shown past tendancies to divide and conquer like in last year's peace deal between Nazir/Bahadar against Mehsud. Second off, Pakistan will have to live with the locals of the Waziristan region for decades from now and their policy makers are fully aware of that inconvenient fact. Three, air power alone is only so effective against cave-dwellers.

Posted by T Ruth at July 21, 2010 1:31 AM ET:

Setrak, good point about the civil-nuclear coopwith the US. I imagine that a similar deal with China may not be viable if the US can veto the case at a nuclear fuel supply group level?

If so, its a very important trump-card that the US holds. After all, it is electric power or the lack thereof that could seriously turn the Pak public against their Establishment and also create a more favorable attitude toward America. Electricity is the one powerful thing that could fundamentally change pak people's perception of the US tangibly. Presently they see nothing in value per se of the Kerry-Lugar handout.

In summary it will also change the dynamics of the stranglehold that the despotic Pak Army Establishment holds over the whole Pak power-cake. This stranglehold is untenable for the whole region and, of course, Pak itself.