Qari Dawat [left, from Channel 4 in 2010; right, from Al Jazeera in 2012]
A Taliban commander in northeastern Afghanistan who has been hunted by US forces for years and has voiced his support for al Qaeda said recently that the Afghan security forces have now become the number target for his forces.
Haji Mohammad Dawran Safi, a commander in the Pech district in the eastern province of Kunar who is also known as Qari Dawat, told Al Jazeera that dismantling and infiltrating the Afghan Army and police is the top “priority” of the Taliban.
“We announced we would forgive them [Afghan forces] many times,” Dawat told the news agency. “We showed them leniency many times in the fight. We tried to make American targets the priority, but the damage created by Afghan forces has become more and more every day. Now they are our priority.”
Starting in late 2009, US forces began pulling back from large areas of Kunar and Nuristan provinces, based on the theory that foreign forces were the primary cause of the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. Security responsibilities have largely been turned over to Afghan forces, who have increasingly come under attack and have lost control of several districts in the two provinces. [See Threat Matrix reports, US begins withdrawing forces from Kunar’s Pech Valley and Al Qaeda never left Kunar, and other problems with US intel, and LWJ report, Governor: Most of Nuristan under Taliban control, for more details.]
In the video, Dawat and his fighters are seen at a Taliban “court” in Pech, where they judged an Afghan policeman. Dawat pardons the policeman instead of killing him, and the policeman is ordered to join the Taliban’s ranks.
Dawat’s followers also distributed leaflets designed to turn Afghans against their government and security forces.
“Those people who accept the infidel’s regime [the Afghan government] and stand with them as friends are themselves infidels,” the pamphlet read.
The Taliban are also working to infiltrate the Afghan Army and police and have threatened the families of members of the security forces.
Dawat has been hunted by the US military for more than three years. In November 2009, the US launched an airstrike in an effort to kill him, and claimed four Taliban fighters were killed in the strike. Dawat “is known for attacking innocent civilians in the Kunar region, as well as international forces and bases,” the US military noted in a press release on Nov. 27, 2009, one day after the strike, without naming him.
Afghan officials confirmed that Dawat was the target, and said he survived the strike. A relative of Dawat said Dawat survived the attack but that his wife, two children, and two neighbors were killed.
Dawat was responsible for the kidnapping of Paul Refsdal, a Norwegian journalist, in November 2009. Refsdal was released just five days after being kidnapped after converting to Islam. [See LWJ report, Taliban commander behind reporter’s kidnapping targeted in Kunar, and Threat Matrix report, Embedded with the Taliban in Kunar, for more information.]
Dawat resurfaced in May 2011 after the death of al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden. He said that he would “avenge” the terrorist leader and “follow in his footsteps.”
“We created special units for avenging the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden,” he told Al Jazeera. “We will avenge him and follow in his footsteps, and we will maintain the momentum of the jihad against foreign and agent forces.”
Dawat highlights the difficulty of hunting for terrorist leaders in Afghanistan’s rugged east, particularly as assets in the area have been reduced, a US military intelligence officer who has been involved in the hunt for commanders in the east told The Long War Journal.
“This guy is among several who have been on our JPEL for years, yet he has eluded us,” the intelligence officer said, referring to Joint Prioritized Effects List, or the kill and capture list for Taliban and terrorist leaders in Afghanistan.
“As we pull back more assets, and as more areas go red,” or under enemy control, “because the Afghan forces can’t hold them, intelligence will only get harder to come by,” the intelligence officer continued. “Add the Pakistan dimension to this and you have a major problem.”
The intelligence official noted that some mid-level al Qaeda leaders, such as Abu Ikhlas al Masri, Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi, and Abu Hafs al Najdi, have been captured or killed in Kunar; others, such as Qari Zia Rahman, have evaded the dragnet for years.