Commander Ismail. Image obtained by The Long War Journal from Combine Joint Task Force – 82.
A senior leader of a Taliban splinter group known as the Bara bin Malek Front, one of the most dangerous insurgent groups operating in northeastern Afghanistan, was killed during a blazing shootout with Pakistani police in the Northwest Frontier Province earlier this week. Security forces opened fire on Mullah Ahmad Shah, better known as his nom de guerre Commander Ismail, after he failed to stop at a police checkpoint near the Afghan border. Ismail was attempting to smuggle a kidnapped Afghan day laborer back to an insurgent hideout on the Afghan side of the border, according to Pakistani security officials who spoke with CBS. Taliban spokesman Zabibullah Mujahid also confirmed the killing of a top Taliban commander in the area according to the same report.
Ismail led a band of 200 well-armed Islamist fighters in Kunar province, one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous areas, and was responsible for a long list of attacks against Coalition forces and Afghan civilians. His group is aligned with foreign fighters loyal to al Qaeda and with the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, but the group operates independently from the Taliban’s overall command structure. Ismail was on Combine Joint Task Force – 82’s most-wanted list. The Long War Journal has obtained an exclusive photo of Ismail from Combine Joint Task Force – 82.
Ismail’s recent history
Commander Ismail initially fought against the Taliban and al Qaeda in 2001. But he eventually switched sides and later became a key facilitator for foreign fighters traversing and operating in the extremely challenging terrain of the northeast. Ismail briefly served as the Taliban spokesman for Kunar province before creating the Bara bin Malek Front. He has significant ties to al Qaeda leadership, according to a US military document concerning Ismail’s status obtained by The Long War Journal.
During his stint as an insurgent commander, Ismail became a folklore legend to insurgents in Afghanistan in 2005 after claiming responsibility for shooting down a US Special Operations helicopter as it attempted a rescue mission for a four-man team of Navy SEALs who disappeared during Operation Redwing. Three of the missing SEAL team died in the initial ground ambush by Ismail’s men and another 16 US personnel, eight of which were also SEALs, were killed when insurgents shot the helicopter down with a salvo of rocket-propelled grenades. The sole surviving member of the ill-fated team sought refuge from local villagers who nursed him back to health and helped coordinate a successful US rescue mission several days later.
Multimedia presentation of the senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Click to view.
Only three days after the ambush, Ismail narrowly escaped death after a B-52 bombed the compound he was staying at in the remote village of Chechal. Locals claimed a large number of women and children were killed in the strike, which the Coalition later confirmed, but added “enemy terrorists” were also among the dead. According to one source who spoke with the BBC shortly after incident, Ismail left the compound with three Arab men minutes before the strike occurred.
Ismail repeatedly spoke with the media, claiming credit for various attacks and threatening more bloodshed. He spoke with the American news network NBC twice in 2005, once in August and again in December, the latter of which he allowed journalists to videotape his discussion. In the tape, he detailed how he and his men ambushed the Navy SEALs and even presented video footage of the attack. Osama bin Laden reportedly sent a letter praising him and his men shortly after the helicopter was shot down in the summer of 2005.
Ismail’s death may seriously jeopardize the survivability of the Bara bin Malek Front with remaining members choosing to fold into wider known Taliban channels or the al Qaeda element in Kunar led by the elusive Abu Ikhlas al Masri. A Kunar-based Taliban subcommander who spoke with CBS described the possibility Ismail had been killed as “a full-scale blow.”
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