ISAF captures Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan's top commander for Afghanistan


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Map of Afghanistan's provinces. Click map to view larger image.

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.



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READER COMMENTS: "ISAF captures Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan's top commander for Afghanistan"

Posted by Marlin at April 24, 2011 1:47 PM ET:

An interesting observation that I also believe is probably true.

Uzbekistan, which is rather more of a police state than Afghanistan, has become so dangerous for Islamic militants, that dozens of them have fled south to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those that settled down in northern Afghanistan have been the source of much of the terrorist activity up there in the last few months. As foreigners, they are easier to spot. A cell phone equipped civilian population has been eager to rat these murderous fanatics out.

StrategyPage: It's Time This Beast Got Put Down

Posted by Uzbek at April 26, 2011 1:23 PM ET:

Marlin's speculation is correct from a standpoint of local population in Uzbekistan which is a very secular country. There is some extremist elements in Uzbekistan but 99,99% percent of the population DON'T want any religious system to take over, let alone Taliban-style regimes that throw whole societies back to middle ages.

Uzbekistan has universal literacy, almost 99% of population is literate the same as in Canada, the US or the Western European countries. What works in Afghanistan will not work in Uzbekistan because average Uzbek thinks differently than average Afghan or Pakistani. Moreover, it is fundamentally wrong to compare these two countries and predict what works in one country will work in the other.

Uzbeks in Uzbekistan want the same thing anyone wants in civilized world - jobs and being able to raise their families in peace. Even though Islam made a bit of a comeback after Uzbekistan stopped its atheistic ways, religion will not rule life in Uzbekistan. Do not forget that the bulk of the IMU's fighters made up of people or the children born to those people who left Uzbekistan in 1990's. They have lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan more than 20 years and have been completely detached from their mother country. In these 20+ years they have developed a different mentality and the ideas they have WILL NOT connect with modern population of Uzbekistan.

We all know that Karimov's regime is not the best in the world and the country would be much more prosperous economically if economic liberty of entrepreneurs wasn’t being trampled on. Almost every Uzbek I know would be happy to see a regime change hoping that would bring more prosperity but this doesn’t mean that they will welcome a Taliban-style ruling in the country. Uzbeks will sooner accept a Russian style ruling of the country than Pakistani or Taliban style. The main reason is that Russia in Central Asia and Europe overall are considered conduits for progress and modern thinking while Taliban, Afghanistan and Pakistan is considered way to regression and the lifestyle of the middle ages. I bet the children of those IMU fighters haven’t seen a day of school and cannot think the way Uzbek children in Uzbekistan think. Average Uzbek doesn’t read this intelligence report but all Uzbeks know that life is much better in Europe and the US than Afghanistan and Pakistan. All of them would prefer European or American style schools for their kids and I bet there is not a single Uzbek parent who would want their kid to grow up in the Afghan mountains without being able to read a single sentence from book. An average Uzbek wants a better life and a better future for their kids, not religion - you can count on it. Everybody knows that European or American way allows you to achieve that not Taliban.

Posted by Rasheed at April 30, 2011 3:59 AM ET:

One cannot completely disregard religion. I suggest Uzbekistan follows the Turkish model.

Posted by Uzbek at May 2, 2011 12:08 PM ET:

@ Rasheed.

The former Soviet -stans of Central Asia will never be as religious a country as Turkey or the Middle Eastern countries are. Do not forget that we had lived under atheism for 70 years and religion is not going to get traction with average person. If religion does in fact become a part of everyday life, it will be with a very tiny percentage of population, so marginal that will not affect in any way the larger society. What's more important is that people in Central Asia do not understand religion the way people in Turkey or the Middle East do because we here do not have that type of strong religious culture. This causes people to romanticize religion. When you do not have a deep understanding of religion and instead romanticize it, the religious renaissance will be short-lived. Which is true in case of the Soviet Central Asia, religious fervor of 1990's died away, not because the government cracked down on it, but because people did not see much value in religion overall. People discovered that religion is not for them, all those mosques closed to never be built again. But I am happy that people got religion out of their system, in 1990’s they tried it and now it is gone.

The leadership in Uzbekistan is criticized, and rightly so, for being far from the people and not understanding its needs. Well, the position of the IMU and other organizations like Hizbut Tahrir is even further from the needs of an average Uzbek. Who in his/her right mind would support a creation of Islamic Halifat in Central Asia, pulling girls from schools, stopping teaching modern subjects and instead teach only religion, forcing women to wear hijab? These things will never be popular in Central Asia and instead will have very small amount of supporters who do not understand religion but romanticize it.