Decapitation campaign: tracking the liquidation of Afghan insurgent commanders

Recent insurgent activity, including several spectacular al Qaeda styled terrorist attacks, has thrust Afghanistan into a quandary unseen since the US-led Coalition invaded the country seven years ago. Attacks are up throughout the country, including the once secure capital of Kabul, as NATO led forces attempt to thwart further insurgent gains on a multitude of fronts.

Coalition forces have surged into three separate areas on the volatile border with Pakistan’s Taliban infested tribal states bringing regional tensions with Afghanistan’s neighbors at an all time high. Meanwhile, US, Canadian and British troops have unleashed a salvo of decapitation strikes against the Taliban’s southern zone leadership elements, eliminating several senior Taliban commanders in Helmand, Herat and Kandahar provinces.

Kandahar: Taliban central

Afghan, Canadian and British forces moved into the disputed Arghandab district in mid June to crush a suspected Taliban uprising and killed between 50 and 60 Taliban fighters over a three day period. Most of the fighting centered on the 18 villages previously overrun by Taliban fighters with the fiercest clashes occurring in the village of Munare. General Gul Agha Naibi, commander of the ANA’s Kandahar Atal Corps, later spoke about the clash which he claimed wiped out the Taliban’s shadow government council for Kandahar province.

“It was a serious blow to the opposition,’ he told reporters at Kandahar air base on June 23. ‘Many important Taliban were killed. There was Mullah Abdul Shukur, the Taliban governor of Kandahar; Mullah Kamran, the chief of police; Mullah Baaz Mohammad, chief of intelligence; Mullah Sayed Wali, head of the bank, Mullah Qader, commander of the air force, and Mullah Mohib, commander from Spin Boldak.”

Although his claims cannot be independently verified and provincial officials frequently inflate battlefield assessments, witnesses described the horrific scene of carnage following the ANA’s assault on Munare village with scores of bloated Taliban corpses rotting in canals long after the battle was over.

The latest Taliban figures to be killed in Kandahar include Mullah Mahmood, the Taliban’s shadow deputy governor for Kandahar, and field commanders Mullah Janan and Mullah Gafar (injured). Fighting has spread to outlying districts including Shah Wali Kot, Kakrez, Ghorak, and the hotly contested district of Arghandab.

Despite these recent successes against Taliban leadership elements, insurgents have lashed out, retaliating with a deadly series of ambushes, roadside bomb attacks and suicide bombings. Within hours of killing Mullah Mahmood, insurgents struck simultaneously in western Kandahar; detonating a large bomb on Highway 1 that severed a portion of the road in half, killing three Afghan policemen and setting ablaze five civilian fuel tanker trucks in separate clashes. Fighting continued throughout several other districts in Kandahar, including Shah Wali Kot district, where Taliban fighters ambushed a joint Coalition and Afghan patrol resulting in the deaths of several Taliban fighters.

“Critical Blow” in Helmand

In neighboring Helmand province, British troops conducted a pair of high profile decapitation strikes against Taliban leaders suspected of facilitating deadly roadside bomb attacks against Coalition forces. British special forces killed Mullah Bishmullah on Saturday in the insurgent plagued district of Now Zad and confirmed his death yesterday.

Bishmullah has been identified as a “senior key facilitator and logistician responsible for northern Helmand” and “a key player in the insurgency, and criminality,” according to a British military statemet. The statement also labeled the operation as “striking a critical blow to the insurgency’s command and control capabilities.”

“Mullah Bismullah Akhund was a senior Taliban leader responsible for supplying weapons and IEDs that have killed civilians and ISAF forces in northern Helmand,” a separate statement by the International Security Assistance Force indicated. “Bismullah was closely associated with local Taliban leader Mullah Rahim, whose brother was also killed during this operation.”

Bishmullah is the second Helmand based Taliban leader killed this month. Two weeks ago, an Apache helicopter strike killed Sadiqullah, a known Taliban facilitator. “Combined with the elimination of Sadiqullah, this is the most significant blow struck against the Taliban logistics and facilitation chain in northern Helmand this year,” said Lieutenant Colonel Robin Matthews, a British spokesman.

Southeastern Zone

Abu Hassan from As Asahab’s recent propaganda video.

Not far from where hundreds of Coalition troops have recently established fortified positions in eastern Khost and Paktika provinces, al Qaeda in Afghanistan has lost one of its most prominent and influential commanders. Abu Hassan al Saeedi, an old guard al Qaeda commander who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980’s, was killed sometime in late June or early July.

As Sahab, al Qaeda’s media wing, released a tribute video lionizing Abu Hassan in early July. The video, nearly an hour long, contains interviews with top al Qaeda commanders Khalid Habib, Abu Khalil al Madani and Mustafa Abu Yazid. At one point, a sophisticated computer animation sequence plays while al-Madani describes how Abu Hassan killed himself conducting a “successful” suicide truck bombing against a US military convoy. The actual attack is never shown but Abu Hassan is seen loading explosives into a large flat bed truck believed to have been used in the attack.

Abu Hassan allegedly helped train Somali insurgents during the early 1990’s before returning to Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden in 1996. He helped run the al Farouq terrorist training camp in southern Afghanistan before taking charge of the eastern city of Jalalabad following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and eventually became al Qaeda’s deputy head of operations in Afghanistan. He was responsible for launching attacks in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces up until his death.

Around the time of Abu Hassan’s death, the youngest son of the notorious Taliban kingpin Jalaluddin Haqqani, Omar Haqqani, was killed during a clash with security forces in Khost province. The 18-year old was killed in combat in Satto Kandao, the mountainous area that links Paktia with the Khost province, according to the News. His death was later confirmed by Taliban fighters in Khost province.

The ailing senior Haqqani is the leader of the feared Haqqani Network, a Taliban linked terrorist group based out of North Waziristan and eastern Afghanistan. Now led by Sirajuddin, one of Jalaluddin’s eldest sons, the Haqqani Network is closely aligned with foreign fighters and Pakistani Taliban. The group has been accused of executing the most audacious attacks in Afghanistan this year including the assault on the Serena hotel in Kabul, the massive suicide truck bombing against the Sabri district headquarters in Khost province, and the attempted assassination of Afghan president Hamid Karzai in April.

Jalaluddin has two wives, one Arab and one Afghan; His Afghan wife has six sons, and the Arab wife three sons. Omar was his Afghan wife’s sixth son, according to a recent Afghan report.

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  • Batman says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we’re striking back. But didn’t we decide that decapitation alone was not an effective COIN strategy?

  • Gigantor says:

    True, but we have only so many troops that can be used in combat.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Decap strikes are the result of good, actionable intel. There may be a human asset, or it could be “the eye in the sky.” The T-ban/AQ must be made to pay a heavy price for thier attacks in A-stan. Going after them in thier P-stani sanctuaries would send them scattering again. Why do we give P-stan BILLIONS, advanced aircraft, when many in the US believe they are aiding our enemies? Time will come when those camps in P-stan will be bombed to dust. The sooner the better.

  • Paul says:

    I would point out that the as-Sahab video claims Abu Hassan al Saeedi carried out his homicide bombing on June 28th 2007, not 2008. He died over a full year ago.

  • cjr says:

    Why do we give P-stan BILLIONS, advanced aircraft, when many in the US believe they are aiding our enemies?
    Well they as still giving us at least one vital and almost irreplacable asset: a supply line from the sea ( port of Karachi) to Afghanistan. Without that we might as well pack our bags and go home because we would be finished. As long as they let use have this, everything else is a secondary consideration

  • Alex says:

    Yeah, I think that Iran’s mullahs might be somewhat less than enthusiastic in letting US troops ferry supplies from Iranian ports to Afghanistan.
    Although, India does share a border with Afghanistan in the Kashmir region, but will we have to do some fighting of our own just to get through there? I don’t know if they even have highways in that area (preferably without minefields) that could handle our logistics. China also shares a tiny border with Afghanistan, but again, doesn’t look like there’s much human settlement in that part of the world, and somehow I don’t think the Chinese will go for a huge US military force driving through their countryside. Sigh…

  • My2cents says:

    I find “Mullah Qader, commander of the air force” intriging.
    What does the Taliban have for an air force?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Alex: “Although, India does share a border with Afghanistan in the Kashmir region, but will we have to do some fighting of our own just to get through there?”
    India claims a border with Afghanistan.
    They do not share one.
    Pakistan shares a controlled border with with their ally China that blocks the claimed route by India.
    You might want to look at a map that illustrates the “line-of-control” (cease-fire line) vice the claimed borders. China, India, and Pakistan all have overlaping claims in Kashmir. The de facto borders do not give India access to Afghanistan by land.

  • Ledger says:

    I would point out that the as-Sahab video claims Abu Hassan al Saeedi carried out his homicide bombing on June 28th 2007, not 2008. He died over a full year ago.”

  • matt says:

    There are conflicting reports whether or not Abu Hassan was killed last year (as the video alludes to) or wether he was killed in late June. Two of the three reports, including one written by Pakistani sources, indicated Abu Hassan was killed in southeastern Afghanistan this year.
    At least one other report, as mentioned in the comments section here, has claimed Abu Hassan died last June.


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