A combined Coalition and Afghan special operations team captured the top Afghan leader of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during a recent raid in the northern province of Kunduz.
The top IMU leader, who was not named, was captured along with “two of his associates” during an April 20 raid in the Khanabad district in Kunduz, the International Security Assistance Force announced in a press release. ISAF does not release the names of those detained during operations. The capture of the IMU commander by the combined special operations team came after “multiple weeks of intelligence gathering and coordination with Afghan security forces.”
The IMU leader escaped from a jail in Pakistan sometime in 2010, “and also assisted others in escaping from incarceration, including paying bribes for their release.” He entered Afghanistan shortly after escaping from the Pakistani prison and, along with another IMU leader, took overall command of the IMU’s network.
The captured IMU leader served as “a key conduit between the senior IMU leadership in Pakistan and senior Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.”
“He assisted both groups by directing insurgent movement for training and operations between the two countries, coordinating suicide, explosive device, and mortar attacks against Afghan and coalition forces throughout northern Afghanistan,” ISAF stated.
Over the past several months, special operations forces have heavily targeted the IMU’s network in the Afghan north. ISAF said that 20 IMU “insurgents” were killed during operations over the past 50 days, including Bilal Konduzi, who has now been identified as the IMU’s previous overall leader inside Afghanistan. Konduzi and another IMU commander, Shad Mohammad, were killed in an airstrike in a remote region of Samangan on March 10.
The top IMU commander who was captured two days ago was also the target of a March 20 raid in the district of Burkah in Baghlan province. Another senior IMU commander, Mullah Abdul Fatah Haqqani, was killed in an airstrike in the district of Burkah in Baghlan province on April 18. ISAF identified Burkah as a “Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan safe haven” in a press release announcing the March 14 nighttime raid that targeted Taliban and IMU fighters.
In today’s press release, ISAF said that its pressure on the IMU’s leadership cadre and rank and file had forced one of the two appointed commanders for Afghanistan to flee the country to Pakistan.
Background on terrorist havens in the north
ISAF has begun to identify the location of safe havens and training camps in the north for the Taliban and the allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Both terror groups maintain a strong presence in the northern Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kunduz, Samangan, Sar-i-Pul, and Takhar, and have established suicide and military training camps in the north over the past several years. As the two groups expand their presence in the north, top leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have integrated into the Taliban’s shadow government in the northern provinces.
ISAF has identified the presence of camps in Sar-i-Pul and Samangan provinces. On March 22, the special operations team captured an IMU commander who ran camps in Samangan.
The IMU has established camps in Kunduz province, a Taliban commander from Baghlan named Mustafa recently told the Asia Times. The Taliban commander said that jihadis from Central Asia, including “Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Russia,” make up a significant portion of the fighters in the the Afghan north and that they are setting their sights on the neighboring country of Uzbekistan.
“I can tell you that there is an active connection between the Central Asian command and the Taliban in northern Afghanistan and they often join us, but how they connect, this is beyond my level,” Mustafa told Asia Times. “Our superior commanders are in touch with their counterparts in Central Asia and if somebody arrives in Afghanistan or goes to Central Asia from Afghanistan, it is arranged at a senior leadership level.”
In late January 2011, Afghan police in Kunduz said they were looking for 15 Chechen women in the northern Afghan province who are aiding the Taliban. The women are either serving as nurses or “are experts in making roadside bombs and suicide vests.”
The IMU in Pakistan
The IMU’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.
The US ramped up airstrikes against the terror groups in North Waziristan between September 2010 and January 2011. 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 IJG commander known as Qureshi, who specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.
In South Waziristan, the IMU’s former leader, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed in a US Predator airstrike 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.