Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network coordinated last week’s deadly assault on a UN guest house in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The attack, which killed five foreign UN workers and three Afghans, was launched by three terrorists who were dressed as policemen and were armed with grenades, assault rifles, and suicide belts. The terror assault team jumped the walls of the compound and began hunting foreigners in the Kabul compound.
Residents of the guesthouse bolted themselves in rooms and escaped to the rooftop during the two-hour gun battle, which ended when Afghan police and soldiers began clearing the building. The attack has forced the UN to evacuate non-essential personnel just one week ahead of the runoff presidential election.
Afghan intelligence claimed the attack was carried out by three Pakistanis from the Swat Valley, which was under the sway of the Taliban until this spring. The information was obtained from eight suspects who served as the support cell for the UN compound attackers, Amrullah Saleh, an Afghan intelligence official told The New York Times.
The attack was a joint operation carried out by al Qaeda and the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, Saleh told reporters. An al Qaeda commander named Ajmal and Siraj Haqqani directed the operation, according to Saleh.
Ajmal is “a major player in Lashkar al Zil,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
The Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, is al Qaeda’s military organization that operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border. The Shadow Army is the successor to al Qaeda’s notorious Brigade 055, the military formation that fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.
During the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to the US invasion in 2001, the 055 Brigade served as “the shock troops of the Taliban and functioned as an integral part of the latter’s military apparatus,” al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna wrote in Inside al Qaeda. At its peak in 2001, the 055 Brigade had an estimated 2,000 soldiers and officers in the ranks. The brigade was comprised of Arabs, Central Asians, and South Asians, as well as Chechens, Bosnians, and Uighurs from Western China.
The Shadow Army has been expanded to six brigades, and has an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 fighters. In addition to dispatching small teams of embedded trainers to Taliban units, the Shadow Army fights in military formations along the Afghan and Pakistani border region.
The Shadow Army occasional fights alongside the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami, and the Haqqani Network, in formations ranging from squad to company level. Evidence of this was seen recently in Swat and Bajaur in Pakistan, where the Pakistani Army met stiff resistance in some battles, as well as in North and South Waziristan in 2007 and 2008.
The Shadow Army also played a role in the recent assaults on joint US and Afghan outposts in Nuristan province, as well as in a series of attacks last year on outposts in the Afghan provinces of Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Kunar, and Nuristan. The most publicized attack took place in July 2008 in Wanat in Nuristan, when nine US soldiers were killed and the base was nearly overrun.
The US has targeted the leaders of the Shadow Army during its air campaign in Pakistan’s northwest. The US killed Khalid Habib, the former leader of the Shadow Army, during an airstrike in South Waziristan in Pakistan last November. Habib was replaced by Abdullah Sa’id al Libi.
Siraj Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin, has risen in prominence over the past year. He is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan and to be the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan.
Siraj is considered dangerous not only for his ties with the Afghan Taliban, but also because of his connections with al Qaeda’s central leadership, which extend all the way to Osama bin Laden. On March 25, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.
The Haqqanis have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence, or ISI. These relationships have allowed the Haqqani Network to survive and thrive in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of North Waziristan, and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces.