US killed al Qaeda’s Lashkar al Zil commander in airstrike

Al Qaeda has confirmed that the US killed the leader of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, the terror group’s military organization along the Afghan and Pakistani border.

Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan, said that Abdullah Said al Libi was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan. Yazid confirmed that Al Libi was killed in a statement praising the suicide attack on the CIA base in Khost. Yazid also confirmed that Saleh al Somali, al Qaeda’s former external operations chief, was also killed in a US attack.

Yazid said the suicide attack against the CIA at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province on Dec. 30, 2009, was carried out by an al Qaeda operative named Dr. Abu Dujanah al Khurasani. Media reports indicate the attack was carried out by a Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al Balawi, who enticed the CIA with promises of being able to produce Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command. Khurasani and Balawi are indeed the same person.

The suicide attack, which killed seven CIA operatives and a Jordanian intelligence official, was designed to “avenge” the death of al Libi, Somali, and former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, Yazid said, according to a translation of his statement received by The Long War Journal.

“[This attack was carried out] to avenge our righteous martyrs, as he [Khurasani/Balawi] (may God have mercy on him) wrote in his will: ‘To avenge the leader, Amir Baitullah Mehsud, the leaders Abu Saleh al Somali and Abdullah Said al Libi, and their brothers (may God have mercy on them).”

Saleh al Somali, the former external operations chief who was tasked with conducting attack on the West, was reported killed in a US strike in North Waziristan on Dec. 8, 2009. Baitullah was killed in a strike in South Waziristan on Aug. 5, 2009.

But Abdullah Said al Libi was not listed by US intelligence as being killed during recent strikes. “[Mustafa Abu Yazid’s statement] is our first true indication that Abdullah Said al-Libi is dead, which is the subtext for why Ilyas Kashmiri has been listed as the Lashkar al Zil commander in recent media reports,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. It is not clear exactly when al Libi was killed.

On Jan. 4, the Asia Times described Ilyas Kashmiri as the leader of the Lashkar al Zil during a report that stated al Qaeda’s military organization was behind the suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman.

Kashmiri is one of the most dangerous al Qaeda leaders. He served as the operations chief of Brigade 313, a conglomeration of Pakistani jihadi groups and one of six brigades in the Shadow Army. Kashmiri is suspected of planning and leading some of the terror group’s most sophisticated assaults in the Afghan-Pakistan theater.

Abdullah Said al Libi is a Libyan national who is thought to have served in his country’s military before joining al Qaeda. In April 2009, al Libi laid out al Qaeda and the Taliban’s strategy to retake control of the Khorasan, a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. In the statement, al Libi is identified as the leader of the Qaidat al-Jihad fi Khorasan, or the base of the jihad in the Khorasan.

“Al Libi’s death is significant, but there is little doubt he has been replaced by perhaps the most capable military commander in al Qaeda’s stable,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The US thought Kashmiri was killed in a strike in North Waziristan alst September, but he later resurfaced in an interview with the Asia Times.

Background on the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army

The Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, is the successor to al Qaeda’s notorious Brigade 055, the military formation that fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan from 1996-2002.

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 055 Brigade was decimated during the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001 and during Operation Anaconda in March 2002.

The Shadow Army formed from the ashes of 055 Brigade in Pakistan’s tribal areas from 2002-2006. 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 Gulbuddin, 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 during battles in North and South Waziristan in 2007 and 2008.

The Shadow Army also played a role in the assaults on joint US and Afghan outposts in Nuristan province last fall, 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 Said al Libi. The US also killed Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Shadow Army during a strike at the end of December.

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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  • T Ruth says:

    “On Jan. 4, the Asia Times described Ilyas Kashmiri as the leader of the Lashkar al Zil during a report that stated al Qaeda’s military organization was behind the suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman.”

    “The US thought Kashmiri was killed in a strike in North Waziristan alst September, but he later resurfaced in an interview with the Asia Times.”
    Now the thing is that the Asia Times article of Jan 4 referenced above claims (re the Chapman base) learning through his AQ/T sources that “The attacker (was) – a handpicked plant in the Afghan National Army (ANA)”.
    So either the rest of the media and sources are wrong and this writer Shahzad is right. Or, more likely Shahzad has been given a bum version.
    If the latter is true, it brings into question whether the same writer’s claim of interviewing Ilyas Kashmiri after his alleged re-surfacing is valid.
    Wonder if there are reliable reports/sources to verify that Kashmiri is in fact alive?
    Can anyone comment on how reliable this guy Syed Saleem Shahzad is reputed to be?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Syed Saleem Shahzad is really good. The ANA soldier part is the only thing that doesn’t check, but it seems to be half-right. The Jordanian is said to have been wearing an ANA uniform. I suspect this part of the story, him actually being an officer, is part of the AQ propaganda. When it comes to the news on AQ/Taliban structure, Syed Saleem Shahzad rarely gets it wrong.

  • T Ruth says:

    Thank you for your response.
    I went back and read Shahzad’s story again and my perception is that he’s been had. His story ironically is titled ” US spies walked into al-Qaeda’s trap”….
    Well this time i think that its “SS Shahzad has sailed into a trap”….
    Nothing of his story, purportedly a scoop, checks out. In fact the whole story reads like a propaganda release of the Lashkar al Zil.
    As for Kashmiri, if someone reports that he was sighted at the same orgy as Baitullah Mehsud and bin Laden was there too, i’d believe him.
    And for al Libi, who knows, maybe he died of a kidney failure (probably the most common complaint in this part of the world, since they don’t have hearts 🙂

  • Bill Roggio says:

    The CIA didn’t get set up? That was as good as it gets. As for Syed Saleem Shahzad, I’d recommend pulling up some of his stories from years back and see how well the reports panned out. IE Taliban resurgence, etc. Again, he’s excellent when it comes to AQ/Taliban leadership structure. He also was the guy that interviewed Kashmiri. I have no reason to doubt him.
    I am certain AQ wants us to believe the suicide bomber was a ANA officer, no doubt that helps its propaganda. I won’t do a point by point defense of his article, I don’t have time, but there is plenty in there that is valid.

  • T Ruth says:

    I trust your judgment and wouldn’t expect a detailed defence of his article. At any rate he can do it himself for i’m sure he’s a visitor here–and if he’s not, he’s missing out on solid stuff.
    My point is only that there’s a scramble out there for groups to take credit for the Chapman attack–how pro-active they were etc etc–of course its a big deal to outwit the CIA.
    There’s precious little detail out there. Its quite possible that he/his family was paid off quite generously. Someone said his wife was delighted with his dastardly deed–maybe the pay-off to her is more handsome than he was.
    As for the ANA uniform, that could’ve been his way to avoid being frisked as he walked in escorted by the Jordanian officer, his sponsor.
    As for the CIA being set-up, sure they were, but i would still be surprised if all the personnel there knew the level of risk they were taking by their visitor not being security-checked. That could’ve been something as innocent as his jordanian sponsor not enforcing the routine, in the excitement of his anticipation, as he escorted, what appeared to security guards as, an afghan army officer. So, basically a systemic failure.

  • Mr T says:

    The real interesting thing is that he wasn’t searched. Why would you not search him? All the jihad he advocated, his published statements about martyrdom, his being in the company of jihadists, etc, should have left some doubt in his handlers. He was an enemy who turned into a friend?
    I could understand if he was on the base everyday but this was a special trip there meeting with high level people. Why not send him into the other room for a quick patdown? Was he going to complain we didn’t trust him? Can’t you just say we pat down everybody? It makes no sense.
    Is it possible the Jordanian with him was in on the mission and facilitated him skipping a pat down?

  • T Ruth says:

    Mr T:
    “Is it possible the Jordanian with him was in on the mission and facilitated him skipping a pat down?”
    Personally, i would doubt that, especially if he were a distant cousin of the King etc.
    But is it possible that they had become great buddies…and that they stood to share a very sizable booty together if they actually got their target Z. So with that cosy relationship he waived off the security checks, without of course his supervisors knowing, until…..
    Its the way things are done in the East–more human-touch-trust, less structure.
    And then the guards themselves could’ve been all Afghans who would just click their heels to a senior officer in uniform!
    The proverb comes to mind
    “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

  • wallbangr says:

    I think you guys are jumping to conclusions that the Jordanian officer was in on it because the facts are not in (and may not ever be as far as open source goes). The Agency obviously believed that he had been flipped based not just on what Jordanian intelligence provided, but on the fact that he had recently provided accurate intel that was detrimental to the (our) enemy in Afghanistan. I think (my turn to speculate, although some of this has been corroborrated by news accounts) that the valuable and thusfar accurate intel he’d previously provided and the time-sensitive urgency of what he was allegedly offering up (per some reports the possible location of Zawahiri, et. al.) caused someone or someones to skip ordinary security protocol in the rush to get the information that sounded too good to pass up. Hell, I think they flew some of the personnel in from other locations specifically to hear what this guy had to say. Whether or not an ANA uniform really had any significance is speculative. Time is obviously of the essence when talking about the everchanging whereabouts of HVTs, and my bet is that AQ exploited that opportunity to get past our security. Like the internal explosives they tried to use against the Saudi CT guy a few months back, they will never stop trying new methods to skirt our security measures. Given this guy’s past track record, I can see where his internet postings, etc., would be looked upon as him keeping his cover and/or establishing the bonafides to get in with the upper echelon of AQ. I doubt that the Jordanians had any reason to think he was a double-agent. Remember, this is as much a black-eye for them for even cooperating with the CIA as it is to the CIA iteself insofar as revealing methodology, location of staff, vulnerability of same, etc. This was a big blow to the CIA and I’m sure the number of drone strikes we’ve seen since are some indication that there will be hell to pay. Hopefully, though, they learn the tough lesson from all this, which I’m sure they will. Ours is a wiley foe and this was a major victory for them. But the important thing, other than mitigating the loss of important and experienced intelligence personnel, will be the lessons learned.

  • Unique says:

    I don´t trust Shahzad in latest piece he wrote. Rahimullah Yuzufsai is the most reliable source in Pakistan when it comes to Taliban and AQ in my opinion.
    Maybe al Balawi wore a ANA uniform, maybe the Jordanien handler told him to wear it so nobody would be suspicious who is sitting on the way to the CIA/military base…does not really matter, even the family including his wife admitt that al-Balawi (alias Abu Dujana al Khorasani) was the attacker.
    Question is: why did he call himself “al-Khorasani” when in fact he was neither Afghan nor Iranian or Uzbek? “al Urduni” or “al Kuwaiti or “al Janoubi” would be a more accurate choice.
    Bill, do you mind telling me where you got the “tape” from in which Mustafa Abu al Yazid says that al-Libi was killed? In your text you are saying it was a taped released. All I got was the statement in 1.Arabic and 2.GIMF English translation.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I misstated that, you are correct it was a written statement released on the Internet. I’ve corrected the entry. Thank you for the heads up.
    I have the same question about the use of “Khorasani” …

  • jason says:

    So either the rest of the media and sources are wrong and this writer Shahzad is right. Or, more likely Shahzad has been given a bum version.
    If the latter is true, it brings into question whether the same writer’s claim of interviewing Ilyas Kashmiri after his alleged re-surfacing is valid.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/08/2010 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • T Ruth says:

    So, on al balawi now it would appear that we have it. Hakimullah Mehsud was the man. Says revenge for Baitullah Mehsud. Read and watch video on
    No mention of al Libi, Somali or trace of Ilyas kashmiri

  • Bill Roggio says:

    That doesn’t prove or disprove anything. In fact, I even said it was very likely that Qari Hussain was behind the training for the suicide attack when everyone dismissed it. I think you’re falling into the standard trap of thinking only one group could do something. Look at how AQ, the Taliban, the Haqqanis operate on a daily basis, look at how they provide cover, shelter, safe haven for each other.
    Also, this takes nothing away from the admission by AQ that al Libi was killed (that was unsolicited, it was never in press); nor does it disprove that Kashmiri is the leader of the LaZ. My advice is to look at Shahzad’s reports of the Taliban and AQ leadership in Afgh and Pak over the years, and see how ahead of the curve he has been. He is not someone to be dismissed lightly.

  • T Ruth says:

    It was interesting to watch all the posturing from factions.
    I won’t for one second believe that they are not all in a vipers nest together.
    I meant that we now know that mehsud was the primary sponsor, yet i was cautious enough to use the word “appear”. I know very well, that in this part of the world, in particular, there are wheels, within wheels, within wheels, within wheels, within…i can go on!
    As for falling into anyone’s trap, which is exactly my point, Shahzad wanted to scoop us into his Kashmiri trap and i wasn’t prone.
    I objected with deep suspicion statements like this one:
    “Once it became clear that efforts to track down al-Qaeda were being stepped up and that the base in Khost was being extensively used by the CIA, the Lashkar al-Zil (Brigade 055) moved into top gear. It is the soul of al-Qaeda, having being involved in several events since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. Under the command of Ilyas Kashmiri, its intelligence network’s coordination with its special guerrilla action force has changed the dynamics of the Afghan war theater. Instead of traditional guerrilla warfare in which the Taliban have taken most of the casualties, the brigade has resorted to special operations, the one on the CIA base being the latest and one of the most successful.”
    And this not a quote these are Shahzad’s words, as are these
    ” Unlike the Taliban’s mostly rag-tag army, Laskhar al-Zil is a sophisticated unit, with modern equipment such as night-vision technology, the latest light weapons and finely honed guerrilla tactics. It has a well-funded intelligence department,…”
    AND these
    “However, Laskhar al-Zil is one step ahead of the Hezb’s former intelligence outfit in that it has been able to plant men in the ANA, and these “soldiers” are now at the forefront…”
    And then that the attack was located in the gym……which WE ALL knew by the time he published his piece was simply not fact. Nor the bit about an ANA plant.
    Now since you quoted your US military intel source, wikipedia is saying this about Kashmiri
    ” In early 2010 Kashmiri was reported to be the new leader of al-Qaeda’s Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, following the apparent death of its former leader Abdullah Said al Libi by an American drone.[11]” and giving you, Bill, credit for it
    See it here
    Track-record or no track-record i want to see corroboration, until then isay, i don’t know.
    This is a PAT DOWN for Asia times and Shahzad, not a PAT UP.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I have no control what goes into Wikipedia.
    I don’t think the posturing is contradictory.
    Balawi clearly thought COP Chapman was important to the UAV campaign; he also knew how to draw the CIA top brass there. And we know the Lashkar al Zil has played a crucial role in some of the more ‘spectacular’ attacks in Afghanistan. I see no problem with Shahzad’s report there.
    I have no doubt the ANA officer part is AQ/Taliban propaganda. But Balawi was driven onto the base by the ANA security officer for the base. Apparently A US soldier shot him after the attack, thinking he was involved. Also, I don’t think its unreasonable to say the ANA is infiltrated. Again I see no problem.
    The gym. Not going to get worked up over that detail.
    All I can say is the people I speak with a) believe Kashmiri is alive, b) think he is the head of the Lashkar al Zil. There is no evidence he’s dead, and no good reason to think Shahzad made up his meeting with him. Also, Shahzad was saying he was the LaZ leader before Chapman and before the report of al Libi’s death was made public by AQ.
    I’m going to leave it there.


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