US and Afghan forces continue to strike hard at the Taliban’s leaders in southern Afghanistan. The US Air Force killed Mullah Berader, a senior Taliban general and leader, after British and Afghan forces called in an air strike on Taliban fighters attempting to ambush their patrol in Helmand province. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense has confirmed Berader’s death in the fighting.
Mullah Berader served on the Taliban Shura Majlis, or executive council, up until his death as well as served as a senior commander in southern Afghanistan. He was a senior general prior to the fall of the Taliban in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. Berader was said to have been close to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader.
Berader is the fourth member of the Taliban Shura Majlis to have been killed or captured since December 2006. Mullah Akhtar Usmani was killed in an airstrike in Helmand province in December of 2006. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund was arrested in Pakistan in January of 2007. Mullah Dadullah Akhund was killed in Helmand province in June of 2007. Dadullah was the senior-most Taliban military commander, and was replaced by his brother Mullah Dadullah Mansoor, in November of 2006, Graeme Smith of Canada’s Globe and Mail listed the Taliban Shura Majlis as follows:
1. Mullah Omar
2. Mullah Dadullah
3. Akhtar Usmani
4. Mullah Mohammed Hassan
5. Mullah Obaidullah
6. Mullah Berader
7. Hafiz Majid
8. Amir Khan Motaki
10. Hamid Agha (aka Qudratullah Jaman)
Several other senior Taliban leaders have been killed or captured since December of 2006. Qari Faiz Mohammad, a member of the Taliban’s military shura, was killed in a raid in Helmand province in July 2007. Afghan forces also captured Taliban spokesman Dr. Muhammad Hanif in January 2007. He was later released in an exchange for an Italian hostage. In June of 2007, NATO forces killed Mullah Mahmud Baluch, a senior Taliban commander in Helmand and Nimruz provinces. Numerous other regional and district-level Taliban commanders have been killed or captured in the south during the same time period.
The success against the senior Taliban commander can be credited to the push into the Helmand River Valley, where the Taliban have established their safe havens within Afghanistan. Successive operations have given Afghan and NATO intelligence a good picture of the Taliban’s network in the region. British, Afghan and US forces have been conducting major battles in the Helmand River Valley over the past several months. NATO and Afghan forces launched Operation Achilles in March of 2007 in an effort to blunt the much touted “Taliban offensive.”
Afghan and NATO forces are currently attempting to deny the Taliban control over the district of Musa Qala after the British signed a peace agreement with “tribal elders,” much like the Pakistanis have done throughout the Northwest Frontier Province. British and Afghan Army and auxiliary forces have been moving north from the Gershk district into the Sangin and Musa Qala districts, while a joint British and Afghan force is working to secure the vital Kajaki Dam. The district of Washir in western Helmand province has also been a focus of British and Afghan Army operations in August.
The Taliban have taken frightening losses attempting to defend this terrain, both in leaders and foot soldiers. Operation Storm, which was launched during the month of June, resulted in over 270 Taliban killed alone. In neighboring Kandahar province, 103 Taliban were killed in a single airstrike after attempting to ambush a NATO and Afghan patrol. The Taliban have been repeatedly ambushing NATO and Afghan patrols up and down the Helmand River Valley, only to take dozens of casualties in each engagement. At some point, the Taliban leadership will have to decide if they are capable of defending Helmand province from the onslaught of British and Afghan forces. The Taliban leadership is putting itself at risk by holding firm in Helmand province.
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