Coalition and Afghan special operations forces are continuing to hunt for leaders and associates of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who operate in the Afghan north.
Yesterday, special operations teams carried out a raid in the northern province of Kunduz for a Taliban commander with “direct ties” to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
“The Taliban leader has direct ties to the Baghlan province Taliban network and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Kunduz and Pakistan,” the International Security Assistance Force reported in a press release. The commander “teaches affiliates how to build improvised explosive devices and also purchases and distributes IED materials. He works in the province with autonomy, reporting directly to the Taliban shadow governor.”
The Taliban commander was not captured, but “several suspected insurgents” were taken into custody.
Within the past month, ISAF has reported on two other raids in the Afghan north that targeted the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s network. A Nov. 30 raid targeted a “high-ranking Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan senior leader in Kunduz” based in the Chahar Darah district who “facilitates suicide bombers from Pakistan for attacks in the province and acts as a liaison for Taliban in the area.”
A Dec. 10 clearing operation near Mang Tappeh village in Chahar Darah targeted “enemy safe havens, where Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leaders use villages throughout the area to conduct operational planning with Taliban fighters and facilitate their attacks.”
Kunduz province is a known haven for al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and allied terror groups. The presence of terror cells has been detected in the districts of Aliabad, Chahar Darah, and Kunduz; or three of Kunduz’s seven districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Coalition and Afghan forces have killed and captured several senior level Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commanders during raids in the north, where the IMU has integrated its operations with the Taliban, and some of IMU’s leaders also fill top-level positions in the shadow governments. The Taliban establish shadow or parallel governments in the regions they control or where the Afghan government is weak. These shadow governments fill the void by dispensing sharia justice; mediating tribal and land disputes; collecting taxes; and recruiting, arming, and training fighters.
Some senior-level Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commanders killed in the Afghan north include:
- Abu Baqir, “a dual-hatted Taliban sub-commander and al Qaeda group leader,” who also was a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He was killed in August.
- Mohammed Amin, a senior commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who also served as the Taliban’s shadow governor in the northern province of Takhar. He was killed in an ISAF airstrike in September.
- Qari Mahmad Umar, a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commander who doubled as Taliban shadow district governor in the northern province of Takhar. He was killed in October.
- Saifullah, the IMU-linked shadow district governor of Chahar Darah. He was captured in October.
The Taliban in the north receive orders from the Peshawar Shura, one of the Taliban’s four major regional commands for Afghanistan. All four of the Afghan Taliban’s regional shuras are named after and based in Pakistani cities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or Baluchistan.
The Peshawar Shura is based out of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, which is the provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Peshawar Shura is thought to be led by Taliban commander Abdul Latif Mansur, who replaced Maulvi Abdul Kabir. Reports have claimed that Kabir is involved with negotiations with the Afghan government, but Kabir released a statement on the Taliban’s website, Voice of Jihad, denouncing the talks as “meaningless and futile.”
Background on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the region
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s leadership cadre is based in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, and operates primarily along the Afghan-Pakistani border and in northern Afghanistan. According to one estimate, more than 3,000 Uzbeks and other Central Asian fighters are sheltering in North Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, the US has ramped up airstrikes against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 50 strikes Predator strikes in the area. Many of the strikes targeted cells run by the Islamic Jihad Group, an IMU offshoot, which were plotting to conduct Mumbai-styled terror assaults in Europe. A Sept. 8 strike killed an IJU commander known as Qureshi, who specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.
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.
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters often serve as bodyguards for top Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. The IMU fights alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well.
Tajikistan has seen an uptick in attacks from Islamist terror groups since the summer of 2009. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda-linked IMU claims deadly ambush on Tajik troops.] In late spring of that year, NATO opened a supply line from Tajikistan into northern Afghanistan after the Taliban and allied groups heavily targeted the main NATO route from Pakistan.