Afghan forces kill senior Taliban commander in Helmand

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district, in Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Helmand provinces. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and statements from ISAF commanders. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.

Afghan troops killed a senior Taliban commander several days ago in the battleground province of Helmand.

The commander, known as Mullah Salam Noorzai, was killed by members of the Afghan National Security force during a raid on a compound north of the contested district of Now Zad on April 28. An aide to Noorzai was killed and another was captured during the operation, according to a press release issued by the US military.

Noorzai had a long history in the Taliban. He served as the IV Corps commander in Herat province for several years during the reign of the Taliban government until its fall in 2001. He “was instrumental in the reconstitution of the insurgent effort following the regime’s demise” and served as a senior commander in the northern and central regions of Helmand province.

The district of Now Zad is a known haven for Taliban fighters and leaders. The districts where the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan meet are considered to be either under Taliban control or contested.

The Taliban have conducted infantry-styled assaults and built fortifications in the region, and have conducted complex ambushes, according to an after-action report from a US Marine officer that was obtained by The Long War Journal. The US Marines have established a combat outpost in Now Zad in an effort to drive out the Taliban.

Noorzai was also among a group of Taliban leaders with “strong links to senior insurgent leadership figures who direct the insurgency from the safety of Pakistan.”

The US military has begun to name senior Taliban leaders operating from Pakistan, presumably in Quetta in Baluchistan province, where Mullah Omar, the overall Taliban leader, runs the shura majlis, or executive council. Mullah Rahmatullah, Abdul Qayoum Zakir, Mullah Naim Barich, and Akhtar Mohammed Mansour have been named as directing operations from Pakistan.

Noorzai also had links to Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, a former detainee at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba who was released by the Bush administration in December of 2007. Rasoul, who goes by the name Mullah Abdullah Zakir, serves as the Taliban’s “surge commander” for its planned “spring offensive” in southern Afghanistan, a US military intelligence officer told The Long War Journal.

Noorzai is the latest senior Taliban commander operating in northern Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province to have been killed by US and Afghan forces.

On March 23, Maulawi Hassan and nine other Taliban fighters were killed after Coalition aircraft pounded his compound in the district of Kajaki. The previous week, Taliban commander Jamaluddin Hanif and a prominent facilitor named Maulawi Mohammed Saddiq were killed during a March 16 airstrike in Now Zad. And on Jan. 21, Haji Adam, a Taliban commander and drug lord, was killed in an airstrike in Kandahar’s contested Maywand district.

Coalition and Afghan forces have been targeting senior Taliban leaders in Kandahar and neighboring Helmand and Uruzgan provinces in an effort to decapitate the group’s leadership and regain control of the rural areas.

In July 2008, several Taliban military commanders and members of the “shadow government” for Kandahar were killed in a series of strikes. The Taliban establishes a shadow or parallel government in the regions it controls. These shadow governments fill the void by dispensing sharia justice, mediating tribal and land disputes, collecting taxes, and recruiting, arming, and training fighters.

The Taliban have established shadow governments throughout Afghanistan, with provincial and military leaders appointed to command activities. In January of this year, the Taliban claimed to be in control of more than 70 percent of Afghanistan’s rural areas and to have established shadow governments in 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

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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  • anand says:

    Which ANSF unit made the kill?

  • Render says:
    “The ANA Kandak consisting of 205 Hero Corps, mentored by an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team from the 1st Battalion The Rifles, played an integral part in the operation after undertaking probing patrols to disrupt insurgents the week prior.”
    The ANA Kandak’s are the Afghan equivalent of a battalion (about 600 men in 100 man companies). I’m not sure if this is the same unit though as the link above is from March 28th. The 205th Corp is reported to be in both Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. The ANA is also reported to have as many as six commando Kandak’s (battalions) operating in the Helmand/Kandahar region.
    30 seconds over Google…

  • Alex says:

    Always nice to see the ANA getting some action and experience.

  • Sam B. says:

    Nice to see the Afghans taking the lead.

  • anand says:

    Render, each ANA Corps HQs (all five of them) and the Kabul Division HQs (which I believe is subordinate to 201st ANA Corps) have at least once commando combat battalion.
    The Kabul Division HQs will have one brigade of commandos with 3 combat battalions. This commando brigade will be available for QRF national deployment.
    The planned total is 8 combat commando bns for all of Afghanistan, of which at least 6 are operational. However, most of them are not in 205th ANA Hero Corps AOR. 😉
    205th ANA Hero Corps has 3 subordinate combat line Bde HQs that are CM-1. 1 subordinate Bde HQs that is probably CM-3 (although it is conceivable that it has been upgraded to CM-2.) Of the 12 combat line battalions reporting to 205th Corps, at least 6 are confirmed as CM-1.

  • Minnor says:

    Great job! With all NATO air support and communications. When will taliban give up?
    Now mobiles, electricity and tv are there in all cities in Afghanistan. That was the only country in asia without all them. At least now they should stop growing poppy.

  • Render says:

    Anand: Not to disagree with you on this minor point but…
    It’s my understanding thus far that the six operational commando kandaks are rotating in and out of that region on an irregular basis. There could be as many as six in the region, or there could be just one, depending on the time of day and the operation in question.
    I’m sure Bill or DJ could shed more light on the subject though.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/05/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Neo says:

    Things are definitely heating up in SWAT. The Pakistani Army is still acting well short of decisive, but this may be their most sustained effort so far. For now, I’m staying away from predicting the downfall of Pakistan. The mood in Pakistan is shifting against the Taliban, but is it too little to late?
    I do wish these reporters would drop the obligatory line about how Pakistan’s renewed concern about the Taliban will please the United States. “The army actions in the Swat Valley and Buner will please Washington, which is urging Pakistan to crack down on militants blamed for rising violence at home and in Afghanistan.”

  • Robert says:

    Agree that Pak is not doing this for US. Pak is doing it for the leaders so that they can get US money of about $1.5bn/year.
    It will be interesting to see how long the offensive of Pak Army(not Frontier corps) lasts after the funding is sanctioned.
    I do not think it is a coincidence that the offensive started, after a lull (in Pak Army’s involvement) of several months, suddenly started a week before Zardari’s US trip to beg for funding.

  • ED says:


  • tbrucia says:

    Killing commanders is necessary — but not sufficient. It seems to me that only when sustained presence (detachments permanently installed in populated areas) are maintained will the fish be separated from their water, to continue Mao’s analogy. Command of the air and search and destroy missions may insure defeat, rather than insure victory…. Cf. David Kilcullen for a detailed rationale. It worries me that we still care about body counts and ‘key commanders’ killed. That misses the point, IMHO.


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