ISAF targets al Qaeda-linked Taliban commanders in the Afghan east
Taliban and al Qaeda leader Qari Zia Rahman, and a map of northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Map from the Asia Times; click to view.
Coalition and Afghan special operations forces targeted two al Qaeda-linked Taliban commanders in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar during raids over the past several days.
On Jan. 7, Coalition aircraft launched an attack against an "al Qaeda-associated Taliban leader" in a remote region in the Pech district in Kunar province, the International Security Assistance Forces stated in a press release.
ISAF said "several" Taliban fighters were killed, and later confirmed the commander, Qari Baryal, was killed in the strike. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Noor TV that five Taliban fighters were killed in the airstrike, while National Afghanistan TV claimed the Taliban's shadow governor was killed.
Baryal was "an active attack planner who leads at least 25 fighters," and carries out attacks along the Pech Valley Road, ISAF stated.
"The commander maintains close contact with al Qaeda leaders and facilitators."
Kunar province is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Dangam, Asmar, Asadabad, Shigal, and Marawana; or eight of Kunar's 15 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda commander who operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, directs operations in the region. Abu Ikhlas al Masri, an Egyptian who has spent years in Afghanistan and has intermarried with the local tribes, is al Qaeda's operations chief in Kunar. Al Qaeda has established training camps for female suicide bombers in Kunar as well as in Pakistan.
Raid in Nangarhar targets al Qaeda-linked Taliban leader
On Jan. 8, a combined Coalition and Afghan special operations team targeted another "al Qaeda-associated Taliban leader" during a raid in the Chaparhar district in Nangarhar province, ISAF stated. One suspected Taliban fighter was detained during the operation.
The Taliban commander is the shadow governor for the Pachir wa Agam district. The commander "facilitates fighters and suicide bombers to attack coalition forces and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Jalalabad, Behsud and Pachir wa Agam districts" and "was coordinating an attack on a provincial reconstruction team in the province."
Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a dangerous terror group based in Pakistan and supported by that country's military and intelligence services, maintain a strong presence in Nangarhar, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The presence of al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba cells has been detected in the districts of Achin, Bati Kowt, Behsud, Chaparhar, Dara Noor, Deh Bala, Jalalabad, Khogyani, Pachir wa Agam, Sherzad, and Shinwar, or 11 of Nangarhar's 22 districts.
Other Taliban-like groups based in Pakistan also operate in Nangarhar. On Dec. 18, 2010, ISAF targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam, a Pakistani terror group based in the Khyber tribal agency, during a raid in Nangarhar. The Lashkar-e-Islam has established its own Taliban-like government in large areas of the tribal agency, including in Bara, Jamrud, and the Tirah Valley. The group provides recruits to battle US and Afghan forces across the border, and attacks NATO's vital supply line moving through Khyber.