Afghan and Coalition troops killed a facilitator for the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) during a raid in Afghanistan’s northern province of Takhar yesterday. In a separate raid today, Afghan and Coalition troops detained another IMU leader who also serves as a leader for the Taliban during an operation in Burkah district, Baghlan province.
The International Security Assistance Force identified the slain IMU facilitator as Mazlum Yar. ISAF revealed to The Long War Journal that Mazlum, also known as Qari Asrar or Tufan, was an Afghan national. He “planned and executed improvised explosive device attacks targeting Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials, as well as Afghan and coalition forces,” according to the ISAF report. He is also known to have facilitated suicide bombers in Takhar and neighboring Baghlan province, and he was “organizing IED emplacement for an impending attack” prior to his death. Three suspected insurgents were also detained during the operation.
Today, ISAF reported that an unnamed Taliban and IMU leader who “planned and executed attacks against Afghan and coalition forces” was arrested by a joint Afghan-Coalition force operating in Baghlan province in Afghanistan’s northern region. While it is not uncommon for an insurgent leader to serve as a leader for two groups simultaneously, the detained leader serves a unique responsibility of rooting out disloyal members of the two groups, according to the ISAF press release. Today’s raid also marks the first reported ISAF operation targeting an IMU operative in Baghlan province since April 21 last year, which was the only known operation in Baghlan targeting the IMU in 2012.
The northern Afghan provinces of Baghlan, Faryab, Kunduz, Sar-i-Pul, and Takhar are known strongholds of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In early 2011, ISAF noted the location of IMU-linked suicide camps in both Sar-i-Pul and Samangan.
Yesterday’s operation that killed Mazlum, is the first al Qaeda-linked operative known to have been targeted inside Afghanistan this year and the first IMU operative targeted since Dec. 4. However, ISAF does not issue press releases for all of its raids against al Qaeda and allied groups. During a raid on Dec. 4, Afghan and Coalition forces detained a facilitator who directed the emplacement of IEDs in neighboring Kunduz province.
Last year, 38 raids were conducted against the IMU, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal of ISAF operations that targeted al Qaeda-affiliated groups. The vast majority of those raids took place in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, targeting IMU leaders and facilitators who often work, and sometimes lead, Taliban fighters. Mazlum’s role as an IMU facilitator fits a common pattern of al Qaeda-affiliated militants serving as advisers and experts in IED use.
Background on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a key ally of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and supports operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as plots attacks in Europe. The IMU is known to fight alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has integrated into the Taliban’s shadow government in northern Afghanistan. [For more information on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, see LWJ report, IMU cleric urges Pakistanis to continue sheltering jihadis in Waziristan.]
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters often serve as bodyguards for top Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Apart from its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the IMU has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well. In September 2010, the IMU took credit for the Sept. 19 ambush that killed 25 Tajik troops, and also threatened to carry out further attacks in the Central Asian country.
The IMU has claimed credit for numerous suicide assaults in Afghanistan, including the May 19, 2010 attack on the US military airbase in Bagram, the Oct. 15, 2011 assault on the Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Panjshir, and the Oct. 29, 2011 suicide attack that targeted an armored bus in Kabul.
The IMU has been a prime target of special operations forces in Afghanistan. Last year, special operations forces conducted at least 38 raids against the IMU; in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Faryab, Logar, Helmand, Kunduz, Takhar, and Wardak, or eight of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces; according to ISAF press releases compiled by The Long War Journal.
In October 2012, the US Treasury Department added Qari Ayyub Bashir, the “head of finance” for the IMU, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Bashir also serves as a member of the group’s shura, or executive council. Identified as an Uzbek national, Bashir is based out of Mir Ali, in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. As the IMU’s lead financier, he provides financial and “logistical” support for IMU operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and fundraises from outside the region.
Last spring, ISAF killed the two previous IMU leaders for Afghanistan, in raids just a few weeks apart in Faryab province. [See LWJ report, Special operations forces kill newly appointed IMU leader for Afghanistan, for more information.]
Additionally, the US has targeted the IMU’s leaders and network in Pakistan’s tribal areas. US drones have killed the last two emirs of the IMU. On Aug. 4, 2012, the IMU announced that its emir, Abu Usman Adil, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan, and named Usman Ghazi as the new leader of the al Qaeda-linked terror group. Adil had succeeded Tahir Yuldashev, the co-founder of the IMU, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2009.
Adil is credited with increasing the IMU’s profile in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the death of Yuldashev, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Whereas Yuldashev had been content with confining the group’s operations largely to Pakistan’s tribal areas, Adil pushed to expand operations in northern and eastern Afghanistan, as well is in the Central Asian republics.