Al Qaeda’s Shadow Army commander outlines Afghan strategy

The new commander of al Qaeda’s paramilitary forces that operate in Pakistan and Afghanistan laid out al Qaeda and the Taliban’s strategy to defeat the Coalition and Afghan government.

Abdullah Sa’id, the commander of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, released a statement concerning the status of the fight in Afghanistan. The statement, which has been obtained by The Long War Journal, was issued by Al Fajr Media Center, an official outlet for al Qaeda propaganda, and published on the Islamic Al Fallujah Forum.

The Shadow Army is al Qaeda’s elite paramilitary army [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’]. The unit has its roots in the 055 Brigade, which fought conventional battles against the Northern Alliance and US forces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and a host of Pakistani jihadi terror groups have joined forces to battle both the Pakistani military in the Northwest Frontier Province and the NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. The Shadow Army contains fighters from each of these terror groups, and trains in camps in the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas.

Sa’id is a Libyan national, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. He is thought to have formal military training; however this has not been confirmed. Many senior al Qaeda military commanders have served in their country’s military.

Sa’id succeeded Khalid Habib as the leader of the Shadow Army. In October 2008, Habib was killed in a US Predator airstrike in a region in South Waziristan controlled by Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.

In the statement, Sa’id is identified as the leader of the Qaidat al-Jihad fi Khorasan, or the base of the jihad in the Khorasan.

The Khorasan is a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. The Swat valley, where the Taliban have forced the government to impose sharia, is part of this region. Khorasan is considered by jihadis to be the place where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant – Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.

Mentions of the Khorasan have begun to increase in al Qaeda’s propaganda. After al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq, the group began shifting its rhetoric from promoting Iraq as the central front in their jihad and have placed the focus on the Khorasan.

Sa’id lays out the al Qaeda/Taliban plan for victory in Afghanistan

In the lengthy statement, Sa’id lauded the Taliban and their improved tactics in fighting Western forces in Afghanistan. He claimed the Afghan government has lost the support of the people due to corruption and the inability to stop Coalition strikes that result in civilian deaths.

Said also claimed the US military has been weakened significantly due to the extended fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and cites statistics about military suicides and the incidences of post traumatic stress disorder. He claimed US and Coalition forces have lost ground to the Taliban and are concentrated in major cities and along major roads.

Sa’id makes few distinctions between Taliban and al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan. He repeatedly calls Taliban leader Mullah Omar the Emir al Mumineen, or the Commander of the Faithful. This title has religious significance among jihadis; the Commander of the Faithful is designated the leader of their Islamist caliphate. Osama bin Laden is thought to have sworn allegiance to Omar.

The close relationship between the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other jihadi groups is made plain by Sa’id in his description of the strength of the Taliban. “[I]t possesses significant regional cards, chiefly the Taliban Pakistan and the Al-Qaeda Organization, and probably more important cards in Central Asia, Chinese Eastern Turkistan, and other regions in Iran,” he said.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s strategy to defeat the West in Afghanistan is made clear. Sa’id, as the Shadow Army leader, would have first hand knowledge of the plan for victory. Sa’id’s major points are:

• Forces are to attack major provincial centers while simultaneously advancing on the capital of Kabul. Sa’id specifically mentions the Maidan-Wardak region just south of Kabul as being a pivotal area for staging attacks on the capital.

• Interdict NATO’s supply lines in Pakistan and force the Western countries to rely on Central Asian nations for logistical supply lines. Sa’id believes the Russians will threaten NATO’s resupply effort and force Central Asian states from cooperating.

• Leverage al Qaeda’s knowledge gained in Iraq to train the Taliban for more sophisticated attacks. Al Qaeda has already “employed its military expertise in Iraq in to serve Taliban’s project in Afghanistan and Pakistan, such roadside bombs which target the military convoys, and the suicide attacks which have never existed in Afghanistan before 11 September attack,” according to Sa’id. He also said that al Qaeda has training camps in Northeastern Afghanistan, in Helmand province, and in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

• Bleed the US and NATO allies through “organized guerilla warfare” as the Western countries face a financial crisis. “Taliban relied on patience, while the Americans can not tolerate long wars and the good tidings are promised to the patient people,” he said. “[T]this type of war causes languor to the fortitude of any regular army and leads to its exhaustion and depletion over time even when the Americans join forces with the NATO.”

Sa’id quotes Osama bin Laden on how the financial crisis plus the extended wars have weakened America’s resolve: “This is America today, staggering under the strikes and consequences of the mujahideen. There is a human loss, a political beat, and a financial breakdown. Even it begs small, as well as big countries. Its enemies are no longer afraid of it, and its friends are no longer respects it.”

• Continue to plan attacks against the West. Sa’id notes that almost all of al Qaeda’s major attacks against the West were plotted in Afghanistan. “The overwhelming majority of the organization’s main operations in Europe and the United States were planned in Afghanistan (the attack on the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York, the destruction of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden, the bombing of the American Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam, the attack on American tourists in Bali, Indonesia, and the bombing of a Jewish synagogue in Jerba, Tunisia).” he said. “Al Qaeda organization did not succeed at all in mounting any major operation in the West from Iraq.”

• Take advantage of Afghanistan’s porous borders to flood the country with foreign recruits, who will eventually “return to their countries and probably Europe and the West after undergoing military training and ideological mobilization.”

• Take advantage of civilian casualties caused by Coalition forces in Afghanistan to turn the population against the government and Western forces.

• Take advantage of NATO and Afghan forces’ focus on the main civilian centers and the lines of communication. The Taliban and al Qaeda will use the countryside to train, recruit, and launch attacks against enemy forces.

• Capitalize on US airstrikes in Pakistan for recruitment as well as for creating rifts between the two governments.

• Eschew negotiations with the Afghan government and the West. Sa’id is adamant that the recent reports of negotiations with the Taliban are attempts to split the Taliban and al Qaeda, and that no members of the senior leadership were involved.

Sa’id is clear that Mullah Omar was unwilling to turn over bin Laden after the US demanded it in late 2001, and that there is no reason to break from al Qaeda now when the Taliban have the upper hand. “US and western sources talk about their readiness to accept the Taliban in the Afghan future political structure should it leave the Al Qaeda,” he said. “However, these sources close the eyes to the fact that Mullah Mohammad Omar has lost his throne [ruling] upon his refusal to hand over one person who is Osama bin Laden. Thus, will Mullah Mohammad Omar agree to a condition which he refused when he used to rule and when the United States was at the top of its might, and accept it now while he is on the threshold of a victory over his enemies?”

• Expand the jihad into neighboring countries. Sa’id discusses using the leverage gained in Afghanistan to affect the outcome in neighboring countries.

In the statement, Sa’id demonstrates al Qaeda’s savvy in monitoring the foreign press and using the wealth of available information in its propaganda. Sa’id quotes from a host of Western media outlets.

Sa’id also takes advantage of the slew of statements made by senior US, NATO, and UN officials that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. “Who thinks one day that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, would welcome negotiations with Taliban, and welcome its participations in the government?,” he said. “And who would think one day the Canadians, British, German, even the United Nations would admit the impossibility of winning the war by arms, and its invitation to them all to opt for the political solution? And who would think one day that Taliban would refuse talks?” [See LWJ report, Taliban mock West for calling Afghanistan unwinnable].

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Ayamo says:

    Well, just let them conduct extensive suicide attacks.
    It will drive the population away from the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies.
    The Taliban and al Qaeda are doomed to fail!

  • C. Jordan says:

    Al Fajr Media Center ?
    What is the official stance of the Taliban regarding the Internet? It seems like one piece of modern technology that they do approve of. And how do they rationalize using something that was created by “The West”?
    I guess its the same logic that allowed the 9/11 hijackers to visit strip clubs and drink.

  • Rhyno327 says:

    They are there in P-stan, acting with impunity, operating, training, planning at camps and madrossa’s. The way to shut them up is hit them where they live, across the border, in Quetta and places that have not been hit. P-stan is going down the tubes, I don’t know why the US does not ramp up the air war. This is one we HAVE to win. NATO, so far has been inept. Too many caveats, too many ROE’s. They have all the time in the world, whereas we do not. They really believe they will win. Hearing NATO officials talk of defeat just emboldens them. Better get it right. Quick.

  • Neo says:

    Here’s another fine document for the diplomatic and academic establishment to “totally ignore”

  • Midnight says:

    Excellent commentary. Looks like a game plan to me. When the Madrasa in Pakistan got leveled I actually reallized how serious they were. I wouldn’t be looking for as many suicide attacks as we have become used to seeing in the past. As for the internet they are combatant users trained in the war against the Russians, we did the training, they are fast learners and never put anything down, they master it. I have also heard many rumors coming from Pakistan about Sufi, half of which can be called the truth, why not some serious investigating there? As for the rest of us we seem fine. Accepting of the circumstance and ready for whatever may come our way. Round two, perhaps.

  • Mr T says:

    The near and far strategy. This is definitely a big one that analysts don’t pick up on. The jihadis will fight to install Islamic law and a Islamic caliphate in the near (current Muslim lands), then they will branch out from there to the far ( Western lands that are not currently Muslim) until they establish a GLOBAL caliphate.
    Those who talk of negotiations can’t seem to comprehend that they will not be satisfied with taking over NWFP etc. They will continue to extend their power into other districts, countries, etc until they dominate everything. I believe this is a requirement and/or strategy written into the Koran. Their strategy has always been that they will relentlessly pursue their ideology. They will never give up no matter how many die or what problems are created. That means we either continue to fight them forever or surrender to them.
    I think the only hope other than having a “New Mohammed” to appear and make changes to the Koran, is to limit their number so the damage is mitigated and they are somewhat contained. The Muslim world must be proactively involved in changing the recruitment, goals, and funding for these people. Since thy have some measure of sympathy for their cause, they have real reluctance to confront them. (not to mention the threat of gruesome execution if they oppose them)
    The danger will still be that 19 men can cause a lot of havoc. The Long War is exactly what this will be. A constant battle until……Armegedden?!

  • Spooky says:

    Zardari just signed the Nizam-e-Adl. Hilarity shall ensue now.
    The sad thing is, Balochs have genuine issues and they get neglected while the terrorists who are actively trying to destroy the Pakistani state get everything with the kitchen sink.
    I predict total surprise when Balochistan finally breaks away, something it seems to be lurching toward even further these days.
    By the way Bill, I love your NWFP map, but seeing as Taliban/AQ are also in Balochistan, could you have a map made for that province too? Thanks in advance.

  • KW64 says:

    Sounds like Sa’id has the leadership of the West and the western media sized up pretty well. But the first question is whether the Pakistani military will fight for the lowlands of Pakistan or not. If they will not, and Russia indeed cuts supply routes through Central Asia the only thing to prevent a defeat in Afghanistan will be a joint India US action. I doubt if this administration would even consider that.

  • Spooky says:

    At this rate I think the U.S. should consider using reverse psychology (as childish as that may seem) against the Pakistani government. Have them back Afghanistan’s long-standing claim over the NWFP. Pakistan would then do all it has to do to keep the province under their control. And if they don’t do it even THEN, annex it in the name of Afghanistan (maybe even pleasing the otherwise unpleasable Pashtuns) and send American forces in and take care of that mess.
    It’ll never happen of course, but what else can one do at this point?

  • NS says:

    If they will not, and Russia indeed cuts supply routes through Central Asia the only thing to prevent a defeat in Afghanistan will be a joint India US action. I doubt if this administration would even consider that.
    KW64, it wouldnt matter if the US administration was ok with it. No Indian administration would ever have the gumption to deal with a situation like that.
    We have elections coming up within the next 30 days and a potentially new Government that will take India back to its days of “Non Aligned Movement “nonsense.
    Besides, for any kind of miraculous Indo-US joint action, the nuclear capability of Pakistan needs to be neutralized completely. Who is going to bell the cat ?
    The war is now coming closer to India than ever before.

  • NS says:

    You do know that your scenario is pretty far fetched right ?
    The situation looks like it is going to COMPLETELY spiral out of control. God save India, we are going to face more trouble than we ever anticipated.

  • Neo says:

    I have to largely agree with NS that this is going to get very messy. I still don’t think the Taliban will directly take Pakistan over. We have not yet seen PML-N play its card as an accommodator of the Taliban and savior of the Pakistani state. I do think they will eventually position themselves as such. Hope I am wrong on this.
    If they are accommodated, the Taliban will have their taste for power wetted rather than sated. They would quickly become a very aggressive force within any new government coalition. If so, PML-N will find itself quickly devoured from within. There’s a very real chance that the Pakistani population could find itself recruited into a holy war the likes of which the world hasn’t seen for centuries.
    It’s a very frightening thought. I keep telling myself that there are a lot of things that would have to happen for the Taliban to pull it all off. Hopefully, they somehow get bogged down between here and there.

  • Spooky says:

    I know its far-fetched to impossible, but its certainly a fair sight more sensible than the current ideas.

  • kinmen says:

    Unfortunately Neo you miscalculated the Taliban. I certainly agree with another post that India will be hard to convince to get involved, however Pakistan as of this writing is a wounded elephant and cannot in my estimation maintain its intergrity. The Enemy has already moved into Pakistan proper and apparently its ideology is strong with the public, these maps appear to be showing that the border between Afghanistan and the Pak. have officially vaporized, or soon will. We have to remember that Al Queda is a fluid thing and adapts faster than our politics do. We gained some ground in Iraq but for how long, once we defeat Taliban in Afgan. where do you think they turn to next? Back to Iraq me thinks.


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