The banner for al Qaeda’s propaganda tape, titled “Winds of Paradise – Part 5, Eulogizing 5 ‘Martyrs,'” from the Ansar forum.
A recently released al Qaeda martyrdom videotape identifies five foreign commanders who have fought and died in Afghanistan within the past few years. The profiles of these commanders reveal that, in sharp contrast to the current, official assessment of top US intelligence officials, al Qaeda has an extensive network in Afghanistan as well as a deep bench of experienced leaders. Also, the martyrdom statement shows how al Qaeda rotates its cadre of leaders to ensure that seasoned commanders are on hand in critical areas.
The tape, titled “Winds of Paradise – Part 5, Eulogizing 5 ‘Martyrs,'” was released by As Sahab (Clouds), al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, and was distributed on several jihadist forums. A translation of the tape was provided to The Long War Journal.
Five al Qaeda commanders: Abu abd al Rahman al Madani, Abd al Wakil al Pakistani, Abu Salamah al Najdi, Luqman al Makki, and Abu al Walid al Jaza’iri, are eulogized by al Qaeda for dying while fighting in Afghanistan. [Profiles of the commanders are below.]
The slain al Qaeda commanders were “colonel-level equivalents” in the Lashkar al Zil, or Jaish al Usrah, al Qaeda’s military, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Each had an average of 10 years of experience in al Qaeda, and commanded relatively large forces over a wide area of Afghanistan.
The commanders were also part of al Qaeda’s cadre of future leaders who step in when more senior leaders are killed in US Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and elsewhere.
“These are perfect examples of the relative unknowns that make up al Qaeda’s deep bench of middle management and talent pool they can draw on for senior leadership positions,” the intelligence official explained.
Two of the commanders, al Najdi and al Makki, had been promoted by Abu Laith al Libi, the revered former leader of al Qaeda’s Brigade 055 who was killed in a US Predator strike in North Waziristan in January 2008. Brigade 055 is al Qaeda’s original military formation in Afghanistan, and fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
Al Makki and another of the five commanders, al Jaza’iri, had fought elsewhere for al Qaeda before coming to the Afghan theater. Al Jaza’iri had served with al Qaeda in Iraq before moving to Afghanistan in 2004, while al Makki had worked with al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Both men shared their skills learned on other battlefields with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The five al Qaeda commanders led significant al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. They commanded al Qaeda forces in seven of the country’s 34 provinces: in Kandahar, Helmand, Farah, and Zabul in the south; and in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost in the east.
This picture mirrors the analysis of al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan by The Long War Journal, and contradicts statements made by top Obama administration intelligence officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter. Last spring, Panetta and Leiter claimed that only 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives are active in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda’s extensive reach in Afghanistan is documented in the body of press releases issued in recent years by the International Security Assistance Force. Looking at press releases dating back to March 2007, The Long War Journal has been able to detect the presence of al Qaeda and affiliated groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union in 62 different districts in 19 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
This view is reinforced when looking at al Qaeda’s martyrdom statements for its leaders and fighters killed in Afghanistan. [For an example of al Qaeda’s propaganda statements on foreign fighters killed in Afghanistan, see Threat Matrix report, Are there ‘al Qaeda guys’ in Afghanistan?.]
NATO routinely targets al Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan, and occasionally kills some of their commanders. In the past month, two foreign al Qaeda operatives, a senior al Qaeda leader from Saudi Arabia named Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi and an explosives expert named Abu Atta al Kuwaiti, were killed in a US airstrike in Kunar province. Several “Arabic foreign fighters” were also said to have been killed in the same strike. Sa’ad Mohammad al Shahri, a longtime jihadist and the son of a retired Saudi colonel, is thought to have been among them.
Profiles of the five al Qaeda commanders
Abu abd al Rahman al Madani
Al Madani was a Saudi citizen who left his home country in 1998 and traveled to Afghanistan to join al Qaeda. He received his training at the Khalden Camp, which was run by notorious al Qaeda commander Ibn al Shaykh al Libi.
Al Madani fought with the Taliban after the US invasion in October 2001. Along with other Taliban and al Qaeda commanders and fighters, he retreated to the northern city of Kunduz after the fall of the Taliban regime. He returned to Saudi Arabia to join al Qaeda’s organization there. In 2004 he was detained by Saudi security forces, and then sent back to Afghanistan. Al Madani spent nine months in an Afghan prison, and then was released from custody.
In the spring of 2005, al Madani rejoined al Qaeda, and was quickly assigned as the operations leader for Zabul province. “He participated in every single operation, supervised the process of information gathering, planned the operations, and took part in them,” according to the al Qaeda martyrdom statement.
Abd al Wakil al Pakistani
Al Pakistani was from the “Ata-abad region” in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1998. “In the camps of Afghanistan, he received his training before moving to the front of Kabul where he joined his comrades in jihad.”
After fighting US and Northern Alliance forces in 2001-2002, al Pakistani went into “isolation” for an unspecified amount of time. He returned to Afghanistan in 2004, and quickly was assigned as the military commander of the Paktia and Paktika front, one of the most important regions in eastern Afghanistan and in the heart of the Haqqani Network’s territory.
According to al Qaeda, al Pakistani was an expert in carrying out mortar, rocket, and anti-aircraft attacks, as well as ambushes and IED attacks on ISAF and Afghan Army convoys. In 2007, al Pakistani was transferred to Helmand province, where he “led his brothers in many raiding operations against the British forces.” He then moved to Farah province in 2008, where he was killed along with “his comrade Khalid al Afghani” during a clash with ISAF forces.
Abu Salamah al Najdi
Al Najdi was a Saudi citizen who “arrived in Afghanistan … shortly before the conquests of the blessed Tuesday,” a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US. He trained in an al Qaeda camp.
Al Najdi fought with al Qaeda and the Taliban against US forces during Operation Anaconda in the Shahikot Mountains in Zurmat district in Khost province in March 2002. After al Qaeda and Taliban forces retreated from the Shahikot Mountains, he relocated to Jalalabad, where he remained until 2004.
He then linked up with Abu Laith al Libi, the commander of the 055 Brigade. Two years later, in 2006, al Najdi took charge “of the Khost front and the two areas of Dabgai and Shinkai” in eastern Afghanistan. As the commander of the Khost front, he organized military attacks as well as rocket and mortar attacks against US and Afghan bases in the area. He is said to have led a raid against a US airbase in Khost.
Luqman al Makki
It is unclear when al Makki, who is very likely from Saudi Arabia (Makki = Mecca), joined al Qaeda. According to his martyrdom statement, he fought alongside Abu Laith al Libi “after the occupation” of Afghanistan.
In 2004, al Makki “became responsible for running some administrative and military tasks.” He was quickly promoted by Abu Laith, who “noticed Luqman’s quick development and his ability to run the work.”
“No one of the men of Shaykh Abu al Laith [al Libi] held the same position Luqman had,” his martyrdom statement read.
Al Qaeda claimed that al Makki downed a US aircraft on a mountain in 2005. He was assigned as the commander of the “Luwarah front in Paktika Province” in 2006.
Abu al Walid al Jaza’iri
Al Jaza’iri, who is from North Africa, fought US forces in Iraq prior to joining al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He “reached the front of Khorasan [the Afghanistan-Pakistan region] … after he had spent some time in Iraq where he joined his brother in jihad and encampment,” his martyrdom statement read.
He became adept at “booby-trapping vehicles” and passed his skills along to other al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. He trained terrorists in “martyrdom-seeking operations,” or suicide attacks, “with physical trainings and shooting with live ammunition. This is in addition to providing them with the information that will help them to understand how to deal with the Crusader forces.”
In 2007, al Jaza’iri went to Helmand province, where “he had supervised the process of preparing a number of vehicles, which turned the checkpoints and vehicles of the enemy into hellfire” in suicide car bomb attacks. He also organized a suicide truck bombing against a US airbase in Khost in 2008, and died in the late summer in 2008.