Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate that a senior al Qaeda military commander and a top Taliban leader have been killed during airstrikes earlier today in the Mohmand tribal agency.
Pakistani military officials claimed that Qari Zia Rahman and Faqir Mohammed were among 30 Taliban and foreign fighters killed during helicopter and airstrikes in the Pindyali region in Mohmand, The Nation reported. A commander named Fateh was also killed, according to Geo News.
Faqir Mohammed is the leader of the Taliban in the Bajaur tribal agency; he is also the second in command of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the group founded by South Waziristan leader Baitullah Mehsud and thought to be led by Hakeemullah Mehsud. Faqir is a close ally of al Qaeda and of its second in command, Ayman al Zawahiri, who is known to have sheltered in Bajaur in the past.
Qari Zia Rahman is an al Qaeda leader who operates in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency as well as in Afghanistan’s Nuristan and Kunar provinces, where the Taliban control most of districts. He is allied with Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur, as well as with Osama bin Laden. Rahman’s fighters are from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and various Arab nations. He commands a brigade in al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
Qari Zia Rahman and a map of northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Map from the Asia Times; click to view.
Today’s strikes took place just one day after Pakistani fighter-bombers and helicopters attacked Taliban forces in the Safi region in Mohmand in retaliation for an attack on a military checkpoint. More than 200 Taliban fighters overran a military checkpoint and killed a Frontier Corps soldier. The military also claimed 30 Taliban fighters were killed in the attacks. The casualties in both strikes cannot be independently confirmed as the military bars reporters from the tribal areas.
Faqir and the Bajaur Taliban are thought to have entered Mohmand after the Pakistani military took over the stronghold of Damadola. The military said it seized more than 150 cave and bunker complexes, and killed 75 Taliban fighters during the assault. Major General Tariq Khan, the leader of the Frontier Corps, claimed the Taliban leadership has been decimated and the movement has been defeated. Khan made an identical claim of Taliban defeat in March 2009, however.
In the past, the Pakistani military has claimed that Faqir and Rahman have been killed in other strikes. In June 2009, Rahman was reported killed during a battle with Pakistani forces in the Charmang region of Bajaur. In August 2008, the military claimed Faqir was killed while transporting weapons near Khar, the main town in Bajaur.
The current reports of Faqir and Rahman’s deaths come as six top leaders of the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura, or executive leadership council, have been detained in Pakistan. The Pakistani military and government have previously denied that the Quetta Shura existed and said no senior Afghan Taliban leaders were present in Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.