Tahir Yuldashev, from a propaganda tape released in 2006.
A Taliban commander has confirmed the death of the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Tahir Yuldashev was killed during a US airstrike in late August, an unnamed senior Taliban commander told The News.
“[It is] true he is dead,” the Taliban leader told the Pakistani newspaper. “Unfortunately he was staying at the same house which was struck by the drone in South Waziristan in August.”
While the commander did not identify the location of the strike, there was only one attack in late August, the Aug. 27 strike in the village of Kanigoram in Taliban-controlled South Waziristan. Eight Taliban fighters and Uzbek fighters were reported killed in the attack.
Yuldashev’s death was first reported on Sept. 28, when a man who said he was a bodyguard for Yuldashev called Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek service for Radio Liberty, and said the leader had died from wounds one day after the strike. According to the caller, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was trying to hide Yuldashev’s death.
In an interview last Friday, a senior Taliban leader denied Yuldashev had been killed.
“Qari Tahir Yuldashev is alive and safe,” Qari Hussain Mehsud, the notorious trainer of child suicide bombers and a senior commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan told Dawn. “Reports about his death in a drone attack are baseless.”
But Pakistani intelligence officials have insisted Yuldashev was killed in the strike. “The man has kicked the bucket,” a senior Pakistani government official told Dawn last week. Yuldashev reportedly was rushed to a hospital in the neighboring district of Zhob in Baluchistan province after losing an arm and a leg during the strike.
Yuldashev’s successor has not been formally announced. The man who identified himself as Yuldashev’s bodyguard said Yuldashev had been replaced by “an ethnic Tatar by name of Abdurakhman.” An Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader known as Zubair ibn Abdurakhman is said to serve as the group’s spokesman as well as a leader of a faction of the group.
Another report in Dawn indicated that a leader named Usman Jan has taken control of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Fifth senior terrorist killed in Pakistan since the beginning of August
According to the Taliban commander who confirmed Yuldashev’s death, the terrorist chieftan was terrified of being killed in a US airstrike.
“None can escape death as finally he died in a drone attack that worried him a lot,” the Taliban leader said.
Yuldashev had good reason to worry, as the US has been headhunting for senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan for the past year.
The US has had fantastic success over the past two months. Including the Aug. 5 strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud, who was the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, five senior leaders have been killed in US strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Also thought killed are: Ilyas Kashmiri, the operations commander of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami and the operations chief of Brigade 313; Najmuddin Jalolov, the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, a breakaway faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; and Mustafa al Jaziri, a senior military commander for al Qaeda who sits on al Qaeda’s military shura.
The US has carried out 78 airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas since January 2008, whereas only 10 strikes were launched during the preceding four years. Since January 2008, 15 top-tier al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and 16 second-tier commanders have been killed [see See LWJ report, “Analysis: A look at US airstrikes in Pakistan through September 2009” for a breakdown of the strike data].
Background on the The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Yuldashev took command of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan after Juma Namangani was killed by anti-Taliban fighters from the Northern Alliance during the US invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001. Namangani and Yuldashev had co-founded the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in 1998.
Yuldashev is said to have been one of the senior commanders battling US forces during Operation Anaconda in the Shahi-Kot Valley in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Paktia in March 2002.
The IMU is closely allied with al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Yuldashev’s fighters shelter in North and South Waziristan; there are an estimated 2,500 to 4,000 IMU fighters based in the tribal regions.
The IMU is strong in northern Afghanistan, where, over the past two years, the insurgency has been revitalized. The Taliban and the IMU have carried out attacks against NATO’s new supply corridor from Tajikistan through the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan. The Taliban, with the help of the IMU, control several districts in Kunduz and Baghlan. As many as 80 al Qaeda-linked militants, including Uzbeks and Chechens, are operating in areas southwest of Kunduz City.
The IMU has also extended its violent reach into Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to the north. Under the command of Mullah Abdullah, a force of 300 IMU and Taliban fighters attacked a police station in the town of Tavil-Dara in Tajikistan on July 9. Abdullah is thought to have crossed from Kunduz into Tajikistan several weeks before the attack. Eleven days later, the IMU attacked a remote military checkpoint in Tajikistan near the Afghan border. Five IMU fighters were killed during the assault.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.