Coalition forces killed a top Taliban leader and two of his aides during an airstrike today in Kunduz province. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the commander may be the Taliban’s shadow governor of the northern province.
The International Security Assistance Force first announced the death of “a senior militant commander of Kunduz province” in a press release, but did not identify the leader. According to ISAF’s press release, the senior leader and two aides were killed “by precision air fire” as they drove through “a rural desert area approximately 18 miles northeast of Kunduz City.”
The senior commander was described as being “involved in all aspects of military operations in Kunduz province” who was “responsible for setting target priorities, weapons distribution and directing attacks against coalition and Afghan forces.”
While ISAF did not provide the identity of the commander, the description fits that of a Taliban shadow governor. The Taliban appoint shadow governors to coordinate the group’s military and governance activities. The Taliban claim to have appointed shadow governors in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
A senior Afghan official said the airstrike killed Mullah Yar Mohammad, who is said to be the shadow governor of Kunduz, according to Pajhwok Afghan News. The official said that Yar, who is also known as Mullah Noor Mohammad, was killed in an airstrike in the Dashti Archi district.
Yar served as the governor of Herat province during Taliban rule from 1995 to 2001, and in 2001 was appointed the governor of Ghazni. Yar “has a reputation for being a ‘military man’ [more] than a diplomat,” according to a declassified US State Department cable on the Taliban. Yar is from Kandahar province and is part of the original Taliban leadership cadre.
The Taliban did not confirm the report of Yar’s death, and it is not known if Yar is actually the head of the Taliban in Kunduz. In a report in Der Spiegel released on April 12, a Taliban commander known as Maulavi Ahmed identified himself as the shadow governor of Kunduz. Ahmed, who is also known as Asadullah, claimed he was appointed as the shadow governor for Kunduz after Pakistani intelligence detained Mullah Salaam in February 2010. Ahmed claimed he has more than 700 Taliban fighters under his command.
The security situation in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan has deteriorated over the past two years. The Taliban and allied terror groups maintain safe havens in Baghlan and Kunduz, and control large portions of the provinces. Of the seven districts in Kunduz province, only two are considered under government control; the rest of the districts – Chahara Dara, Dashti Archi, Ali Abab, Khan Abad, and Iman Sahib – are considered contested or under Taliban control, according to a map produced by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry in the spring of 2009. Two districts in neighboring Baghlan province – Baghlan-i-Jadid and Burka – are under the control of the Taliban [see LWJ report, “Afghan forces and Taliban clash in Kunduz,” and Threat Matrix report, “Afghanistan’s wild-wild North”].
Kunduz and Baghlan fall under ISAF’s Regional Command North, which is led by the Germans. The Germans have been criticized by the Afghan government and Coalition partners for failing to aid in securing the north. German troops are restricted from actively engaging in major combat operations and have largely confined their forces to base.
The fighting in Kunduz continues to intensify. On April 24, Afghan and Coalition forces killed 23 Taliban fighters in Kunduz province. Over the past week, suspected Taliban poison gas attacks have sickened 80 Afghan schoolgirls in Kunduz. Meanwhile, the governor of Kunduz said 100 foreign fighters, including Chechens, Uzbeks, and Pakistanis, have entered the province.