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.