Today special operation forces arrested a commander from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the Khanabad district of Afghanistan’s Kunduz province. ISAF reports:
An Afghan and coalition security force arrested an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leader in Khanabad district, Kunduz province, today. The leader allegedly facilitates distribution of weapons and assists in improvised explosive device emplacement operations in the district. He oversees the acquisition, transfer and delivery of IED materials and explosives to insurgents. The security force also detained one suspected insurgent and seized multiple firearms and ammunition as a result of the operation.
This comes as President Obama is expected to announce during his State of the Union address tonight that 34,000 US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Currently, 66,000 American troops are deployed in the country to train Afghan forces and conduct combat operations such as today’s raid. While no announcement has been made as to which specific forces will remain, the fact that US and NATO forces will be assuming an advisory and support role, rather than serving as a front line combat force, has been widely publicized.
So far this year, six raids have been launched in Afghanistan targeting IMU leaders and facilitators, while only two were conducted in the same time span last year. Today’s raid follows two operations last week which captured IMU commanders in neighboring Baghlan and Takhar provinces.
Raids targeting insurgents with direct links to al Qaeda have also shown a slight increase this year compared to last. In January, two separate operations were launched targeting al Qaeda-associated Taliban leaders along the Pakistani border in Kunar province.
The coming withdrawal of American forces will likely have a significant impact on the US’s pursuit of al Qaeda and its affiliates inside Afghanistan, and it is yet to be seen if Afghan forces can conduct these operations on their own. Special operations forces launched 16 raids into Kunar province in 2012, more than double the previous year, according to a study by The Long War Journal. Although these raids are often partnered with Afghan commandos, they still rely heavily on US and NATO forces. The loss of US air support, intelligence, and command and control will severely hamper the ability of Afghan forces to pursue insurgents in remote areas such as Kunar province, which already is re-emerging as a safe haven for al Qaeda.