Coalition and Afghan special operations forces captured a senior leader from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba during a raid today in the southeastern Afghan province of Ghazni. Additionally, special operations forces killed an “insurgent leader” who supported foreign fighters during an operation yesterday in the northeastern province of Kunar.
The “senior Lashkar-e-Taiba leader” and “a number of other insurgents” were captured in the district of Andar in Ghazni, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. ISAF did not identify the nationality of the leader or the “other insurgents” captured during the raid.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba leader “planned and participated in multiple attacks against Afghan and Coalition forces throughout Kunar, Kandahar and Ghazni provinces” and “was actively planning a high-profile attack at the time of his arrest.”
He also “is known to have links to multiple foreign fighters.” ISAF often uses the term ‘foreign fighters’ to describe members of al Qaeda and other affiliated foreign terror groups that operate in Afghanistan. ISAF told The Long War Journal today that it “cannot confirm any ties” between the Lashkar-e-Taiba leader and “al Qaeda affiliation with foreign fighters.”
The Andar district in Ghazni is a known Taliban and al Qaeda hub in the southeast. Since August 2008, the US military has conducted eight raids against al Qaeda cells in Andar, according to military press reports compiled by The Long War Journal. Senior Taliban and al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitators are known to operate in the district. Last September, the governor of Ghazni said the Taliban were bringing in “foreign militants” into the province, and the deputy chief of the Ghazni provincial council said that a large number of Pakistanis are currently fighting in Ghazni [see LWJ report, ‘Foreign militants’ still present in Ghazni].
Also, ISAF announced that it killed an “insurgent leader” who was identified as Rauf during a raid in the Asadabad district in Kunar province. Rauf “facilitated funding for foreign fighters and coordinated operations between the Taliban and other insurgent groups,” ISAF stated. He also served as “an operational planner responsible for coordinating attacks on Afghan and coalition forces in multiple provinces throughout Afghanistan.”
ISAF told The Long War Journal that it “cannot confirm any ties” between Rauf and “al Qaeda affiliation with foreign fighters.”
Kunar province is a known haven for al Qaeda. Special operations forces have killed multiple senior al Qaeda commanders in Kunar, while the terror group is known to have established training camps there. Al Qaeda also directs operations in Afghanistan from Kunar.
Although ISAF declined a recent request by The Long War Journal to discuss al Qaeda and its operations in Afghanistan, US intelligence officials have said the group remains active in the country [see LWJ report, ISAF operations against IMU in 2013 at highest rate since war’s start].
Raids against the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Afghanistan
The Lashkar-e-Taiba is known to have a presence in several of Afghanistan’s provinces, including, Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Wardak, Laghman, Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Kabul, and Kandahar.
Four other raids reported by ISAF have targeted the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s network since the beginning of July 2010. ISAF operations against the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s network have taken place in Kunar, Nangarhar, and Wardak, and ISAF noted in today’s press release that the captured commander operated in Kandahar.
In July 2010, ISAF noted an “influx of Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters into the province” of Nangarhar, in two separate press releases that announced the capture of Taliban commanders who helped members of the Pakistani terror group enter the country. The July 2010 announcements by ISAF were the first acknowledgements that the Lashkar-e-Taiba was operating in Afghanistan.
In November 2010, ISAF captured the commander of “a cell of approximately 50 foreign fighters” which consisted of “Arab and Pakistani al Qaeda operatives, possibly members from Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as members of the Haqqani Network from North Waziristan.”
And in June 2012, ISAF killed two senior Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders in an airstrike in Kunar. One of them was Khatab Shafiq, the Lashkar-e-Taiba senior leader in the province who “established multiple insurgent training camps in eastern Afghanistan.” The other was Ammar, who led an attack network in Kunar. Both Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders were linked to al Qaeda.
Background on the Lashkar-e-Taiba
The Lashkar-e-Taiba has been linked to numerous complex attacks in eastern Afghanistan and in Kabul. Its fighters are believed to have worked with the Haqqani Network, run by Siraj Haqqani, to carry out attacks on Indian targets in Kabul.
Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters have fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in multiple engagements against US and Afghan forces in the east, including the deadly assault on the US combat outpost in Wanat in Nuristan province in July 2008. More than 400 enemy fighters launched the coordinated attack. In the fierce fighting at Wanat, nine US troops were killed, 15 US soldiers and four Afghan troops were wounded, and the post was nearly overrun. Although US forces ultimately defeated the attack, they withdrew from the outpost days later.
The terror group is known to have run training camps in Kunar and Paktia provinces up until the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Lashkar-e-Taiba also currently operates camps in Pakistan in Mansehra, Sindh, Punjab, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate support Lashkar-e-Taiba as part of Pakistan’s so-called strategic depth against rival India.
The terror group, which is backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and the military, and sheltered by the government, essentially runs a state within a state in Pakistan. The sprawling Muridke complex in Punjab houses “a Madrassa (seminary), a hospital, a market, a large residential area for ‘scholars’ and faculty members, a fish farm and agricultural tracts. The LeT also reportedly operates 16 Islamic institutions, 135 secondary schools, an ambulance service, mobile clinics, blood banks and several seminaries across Pakistan,” the Southeast Asia Terrorism Portal reported.
Over a period of years, the Lashkar-e-Taiba has established an organization that rivals Lebanese Hezbollah. The group succeeded in providing aid to earthquake-ravaged regions in Kashmir in 2005 while the Pakistani government was slow to act. Lashkar-e-Taiba is active in fundraising across the Middle East and South Asia, and has recruited scores of Westerners to train in its camps. The most well-known Western recruit is David Coleman Headley, an American citizen who helped scout the deadly November 2008 Mumbai terror assault and also plotted attacks in Europe.
Like al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba seeks to establish a Muslim caliphate in southern and central Asia. Lashkar-e-Taiba has “consistently advocated the use of force and vowed that it would plant the ‘flag of Islam’ in Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi,” according to the Southeast Asia Terrorism Portal. Also, like al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba practices Wahhabism, the radical Islamist school of thought born in Saudi Arabia.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has an extensive network in southern and southeast Asia. After the Mumbai terror assault in November 2008 that killed 165 people, a senior US military intelligence official described the group as “al Qaeda junior,” as it has vast resources and is able to carry out complex attacks throughout its area of operations. “If by some stroke of luck al Qaeda collapsed, LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) could step in and essentially take its place,” the official told The Long War Journal in November 2008.
The relationship between al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba is complex, the official noted. “While Lashkar-e-Taiba is definitely subordinate to al Qaeda in many ways, it runs its own network and has its own command structure. The groups often train in each others’ camps, and fight side by side in Afghanistan.”
The US government designated Lashkar-e-Taiba as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2001. The Pakistani government banned the group in January 2002, but this did little to shut down its operations. The group renamed itself the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and has conducted business as usual.
Hafiz Saeed, the emir of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and several other leaders have been added to the US’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In May 2012, the US added Saeed to the Rewards for Justice program, and offered $10 million for information leading to his arrest and prosecution. Saeed continues to operate openly Pakistan, and is often feted by Pakistani politicians and the media.