|Mustafa Abu Yazid on As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm.|
Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate that Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, has been killed during the heavy fighting in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Bajaur.
The report of Yazid’s death is based on statements made by an unnamed senior Pakistani security official. Pakistani television claimed Abu Saeed al Masri was killed in fighting in Bajaur. Yazid is also known as Sheikh Saeed and Abu Saeed al Masri (the Egyptian).
But it is unclear if this Abu Saeed al Masri is the same person as Yazid. Other al Qaeda operatives go by the name of Sheikh Saeed, a senior US military intelligence official warned The Long War Journal.
Yazid serves as al Qaeda’s senior military commander in Afghanistan as well as a senior spokesman. He was born on Dec. 17, 1955 in Egypt, according to Geo TV, who recently interviewed Yazid. The 9-11 Commission identified Yazid as al Qaeda’s “chief financial manager.” Yazid “served time in jail with al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al Zawahiri after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981,” Reuters reported.
The Bajaur tribal agency is al Qaeda’s command and control hub for operations across the border in northeastern Afghanistan. Fighting in Bajaur has been heavy over the past week after the government attempted to reassert control over the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven.
Last week, a large Taliban force surrounded and ambushed a 200-man convoy of Frontier Corps forces moving into the region. Heavy fighting broke out after the Frontier Corps troops attempted to break the encirclement. Scores of Pakistani soldiers have been reported killed or captured, and more than a hundred Taliban have been reported killed as well. Pakistani forces retreated from the region and the Taliban are digging in around Khar, the administrative seat for Bajaur.
No independent confirmation
There has been no independent confirmation of Yazid’s death. Al Qaeda has yet to release a notice of Yazid’s death. In the past, al Qaeda has quickly notified their followers of the death of senior leaders. Abu Laith al Libi’s death was announced within 36 hours of the US airstrike, while Abu Khabab al Masri’s death was announced within four days of the attack. Al Libi was a senior al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, while Khabab was al Qaeda’s senior explosive and weapons of mass destruction expert.
Senior US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said the claims of Yazid’s death are being investigated but cannot be confirmed at this moment.
Reports of the deaths of senior al Qaeda leaders from unnamed Pakistani sources are spotty at best. Last week, STRATFOR and CBS News reported that Ayman al Zawahiri was killed or seriously wounded during the July 28 airstrike on an al Qaeda safe house in South Waziristan.
The Taliban denied the claims, and US intelligence officials were suspicious. The reports of Zawahiri’s death were proven false after Zawahiri appeared on a videotape this week, speaking in English and calling for the overthrow of President Musharraf and the Pakistani government.
Targeting al Qaeda in the tribal areas
If Yazid’s death is confirmed, he would be the fourth senior al Qaeda leader killed in Pakistan’s tribal areas this year.
On May 14, Abu Sulayman Jazairi, a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda’s central organization who directed the groups external operations, was killed in an airstrike against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in the town of Damadola in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency along with 13 associates. Jazairi is described as a senior trainer, an explosives expert, and an operational commander tasked with planning attacks on the West.
Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a US strike inside the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan in late January. Al Libi was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and served as a chief spokesman for al Qaeda. Laith also commanded al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
The US has also struck at Taliban and al Qaeda safe house inside Pakistan at least two other times this year. On March 16, US forces struck at the fortified compound owned by Noorullah Wazir, a Pakistani tribal elder who lived in the village of Dhook Pir Bagh some five kilometers from Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan. Another nearby house, where Uzbek and Arab fighters had recently stayed, was also destroyed in a separate round of missile fire.
On March 12, the US military fired guided missiles from Afghanistan into a compound run by Siraj Haqqani, the wanted Taliban leader behind numerous attacks in Afghanistan. The attack is believed to have killed three senior Haqqani network commanders and “many” Chechen fighters.
Last year, the US struck at an al Qaeda safehouse inside Pakistan on Dec. 28, the day after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. The US military targeted the home of Sheikh Essa, an Egyptian cleric responsible for pushing the Taliban to overthrow the Pakistani government. Essa was said to have been wounded in the attack.
In August 2007, Pakistani forces hit two Taliban and al Qaeda bases in the village of Daygan, North Waziristan. Camps and bases in Damadola, Danda Saidgai, Chingai, Zamazola, again in Danda Saidgai, and Mami Rogha were hit over the course of 2006 and 2007.
These strikes have done little to disrupt the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda maintain more than 100 terror camps in the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas, and are consolidating their control over the tribal areas and several settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province.