Al Qaeda's commander for Kunar, several operatives killed in airstrike
A video from the Sa'ad bin Abi Waqas Group, released in early 2010 by the Ansar al Mujahideen Forum.
The International Security Assistance Force has confirmed today that al Qaeda's commander in the contested northeastern province of Kunar was killed during an airstrike earlier this week.
Waqas, an al Qaeda commander from Pakistan, was killed along with an identified number of al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in an airstrike on April 14 in the Dangam district in Kunar.
ISAF has not provided the names and nationalities of the other al Qaeda operatives thought to have been killed in the airstrike, despite multiple inquires by The Long War Journal.
Waqas' full name is Sa'ad bin Abi Waqas. His fighters, who are members of the Sa'ad bin Abi Waqas Group, are featured in a video released in early 2010 that shows them inventorying equipment provided by donors. The fighters display radios, binoculars, backpacks, uniforms, and other gear donated to the group. Enough equipment was donated to outfit about a platoon of al Qaeda fighters (20-40 men).
Waqas "coordinated attacks against coalition forces," ISAF stated in a press release today announcing his death. "He was associated with another Pakistan-based senior al Qaeda leader and together they conducted training for members throughout the province, as well as weapons procurement."
Waqas took control of al Qaeda's operations in Kunar after the previous leader, Abu Ikhlas al Masri, was captured by ISAF and Afghan commandos in December 2010. [For more information, see LWJ report, ISAF captures al Qaeda's top Kunar commander.]
ISAF has also been actively hunting Waqas' commander, Qari Zia Rahman, since last summer. Rahman has been described as a "dual hatted al Qaeda and Taliban commander," and leads forces in Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan, as well as across the border in Pakistan's tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand.
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.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda camps in the provinces, US troops have abandoned several combat outposts in Kunar and the neighboring province of Nuristan after major attacks on remote bases. US Army commanders said that the outposts were closed or turned over to Afghan forces as part of a new counterinsurgency strategy to secure population centers.
But as the US military began drawing down its forces in Kunar and Nuristan in late 2009, it acknowledged that al Qaeda camps were in operation in Kunar. ISAF targeted three al Qaeda camps in Kunar between October 2009 and October 2010.