In an airstrike in northern Afghanistan yesterday, Coalition special operations teams targeted a top commander in the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who is closely allied with the Taliban.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commander, who was not named, was targeted in the airstrike while riding a motorcycle near Mang Tapa in Chahar Dara district in Kunduz province. The commander “facilitates foreign fighters and leads attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in Kunduz,” the International Security Assistance Force said in a press release.
“The commander has a standing relationship with senior Taliban members in Kunduz and his fighters are integrated with Taliban fighters in the area,” ISAF stated.
In the airstrike, one “insurgent” was killed and another was wounded, according to an assessment by the ISAF. It is not clear if the commander was killed or wounded, and ISAF did not dispatch a ground team to follow up on the strike.
In a separate operation, Afghan and Coalition forces detained one “insurgent” last night while hunting the Taliban’s district commander for Alibad.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is an al Qaeda affiliate that operates both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The IMU is most active in the Afghan north and east. The IMU’s former leader, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed in a US Predator airstrike in South Waziristan in September 2009. Yuldashev sat on al Qaeda’s top council, the Shura Majlis. He has been replaced by Abu Usman Adil.
ISAF killed another IMU leader in Kunduz on Aug. 14. Abu Baqir, who was described as “a dual-hatted Taliban sub-commander and al Qaeda group leader,” was killed along with another Taliban operative after he and other members of his cell attacked the police station in the district of Alibad. Baqir was also an IMU sub-commander.
Also, two days ago, Coalition and Afghan forces targeted an “al Qaeda-affiliated extremist” who is “connected to several insurgents groups in the area, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban,” ISAF stated in a press release. According to ISAF, the target of the raid “was recently forced to leave his safe haven in Pakistan and moved to Takhar province with several al Qaeda members.” Nine “insurgents” were captured during the raid.
Kunduz province is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Alibad, Chahar Darah, and Kunduz; or three of Kunduz’s seven districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Background on the Taliban strongholds in the north
Over the past two years, the security situation in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan has deteriorated. The Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), the Haqqani Network, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan all have a presence in the two provinces and have been attacking Coalition and Afghan forces as well as NATO supply lines from Tajikistan.
The Taliban and allied terror groups maintain safe havens in Baghlan and Kunduz, and control large portions of the provinces. Of the seven districts in Kunduz province, only two are considered under government control; the rest of the districts – Chahara Dara, Dashti Archi, Ali Abab, Khan Abad, and Iman Sahib – are considered contested or under Taliban control, according to a map produced by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry in the spring of 2009. Two districts in neighboring Baghlan province – Baghlan-i-Jadid and Burka – are under the control of the Taliban [see LWJ report, Afghan forces and Taliban clash in Kunduz, and Threat Matrix report, Afghanistan’s wild-wild North].
Kunduz and Baghlan fall under ISAF’s Regional Command North, which is led by the Germans. The Germans have been criticized by the Afghan government and Coalition partners for failing to aid in securing the north. German troops are restricted from actively engaging in major combat operations and have largely confined their forces to base.
ISAF and Afghan security forces have been targeting the Taliban’s top leaders for the two northern provinces; several have been detained or killed this year. The Pakistanis reportedly detained the Taliban’s shadow governors for Kunduz and Baghlan in February. In April, the Afghan military claimed that the newly-named, replacement shadow governor for Kunduz was killed along with three aides.
Earlier this year, Baghlan was the scene of a local internecine battle between the Taliban and allied HIG. Seventy HIG fighters and 50 Taliban fighters were killed in fighting in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district after disagreements arose over collecting taxes. Scores of HIG fighters defected to the government after being defeated. There is no indication, however, that the taxation dispute between the two groups that spiraled into fighting has spread beyond the Baghlan-e-Markazi district.
But despite the Taliban’s losses in the north, the group remains in firm control of several districts. The Taliban have launched an assassination campaign and have also been accused of releasing poisonous gases in girls’ schools in Kunduz. Scores of Afghan schoolgirls have been hospitalized over the past several months due to the gas attacks.
The Taliban have also made inroads in the northern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan. Security in both provinces has deteriorated over the past year as US forces have withdrawn from remote districts in nearby Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Attacks against the government, Afghan security forces, and civilians have spiked in Badakhshan and Takhar. The most egregious attack took place in early August in Badakhshah. Both the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin claimed their forces killed 10 medical workers, including eight foreigners, in an ambush in in the province.
Over the past year, Afghan intelligence officials have intercepted rogue Pakistani Frontier Corps personnel and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate agents penetrating Badakhshan from Kunar.
• Coalition forces conduct air strike against senior commander, ISAF press release
• Security force targets Taliban district commander in Kunduz, ISAF press release
• Afghan and coalition force detains suspected insurgents in Kunduz, ISAF press release
• Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan confirms leader Tahir Yuldashev killed, The Long War Journal
• US strike kills ‘dual-hatted’ al Qaeda and Taliban commander in northern Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
• Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan names Abu Usman as new leader, The Long War Journal