Are there ‘al Qaeda guys’ in Afghanistan?

Video of a recent al Qaeda operation in Afghanistan

On Facebook, blogger Michael Yon suggests that US forces haven’t killed or captured al Qaeda fighters and leaders recently:

I’ve asked a lot of commanders here to tell me about the last time they caught or killed an al Qaeda guy here. No commanders can remember catching or killing any al Qaeda here in recent years.

Perhaps military commanders cannot recall killing or capturing “an al Qaeda guy,” but al Qaeda certainly tells us when their operatives buy it in Afghanistan. For instance, just this month, As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released a martyrdom video of an al Qaeda operative named Abi Zaid al Makki

. The “Makki” stands for Mecca, the city in Saudi Arabia.

In the video, al Makki is shown preparing for his suicide attack. Later, as his fellow fighters launched a diversionary attack, he rammed a truck packed with explosives into an outer wall of a joint US and Afghan outpost in Khost province, Afghanistan.

A short list of al Qaeda leaders and operatives killed, captured, or known to have fought in Afghanistan includes:

Sadam Hussein Al Hussami, a longtime al Qaeda fighter and trainer, who was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan in March 2010. He led al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

The 15 members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, which included 13 Uighurs and two Turks, who were killed in a US airstrike in Badghis in January. The group, which is closely allied to al Qaeda (Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party, sits on al Qaeda’s top shura) issued a statement confirming their deaths.

Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al Balawi, also known as Abu Dujanah al Khurasani, the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents and security guards and a Jordanian intelligence official at a combat outpost in Khost on Dec. 30, 2009.

The three al Qaeda embedded military trainers (these are al Qaeda operatives sent to Taliban units to impart tactics and skills) who were killed in Herat in October 2009.

Abu Gharib al Makki, the al Qaeda embedded military trainer who was killed in Farah province in August 2008.

Dr. Arshad Waheed, also known as Sheikh Moaz, who was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan in May 2008. While Waheed wasn’t killed in Afghanistan, he led al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Abu Laith al Libi, the leader of al Qaeda’s Brigade 055, who was killed in Pakistan in January 2008. Al Libi was lionized in the rank and file for leading al Qaeda forces against the Coalition in Afghanistan.

That there are few, if any al Qaeda leaders and fighters in Afghanistan is common argument, as seen here and here. What this misses is that, while al Qaeda’s leadership presence in Afghanistan has been diminished due to a marked shift to Pakistan’s tribal areas, the terror group is still quite active in Afghanistan, most notably in the form of embedded trainers and allied organizations like the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Islamic Jihad Union. Thomas Joscelyn and I documented this interconnectedness between al Qaeda and the Taliban thoroughly back in October 2009.

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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  • OSINT says:

    also, French foreign Fighter ‘Hamza’, who died in Afghanistan in december 2009 (

  • Tyler says:

    Its a valid point. And the only appropriate counter is an explanation of the entire regional conflict.
    Its both sides of the border. Yes, Al Qaeda’s leadership is situated largely on the Pakistan side of that border. From where they pick and choose the nature and extent of their involvement in the Taliban insurgency. Their main targets of late clearly being the FOBs right on the border, built for the expressed purpose of keeping Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan.
    Pakistan has a large, modern, disciplined military that clearly is able to handle itself when it aggressively takes on the Taliban. For the time being, we’re occupying that role on the Afghan side. And it can’t be one or the other. A war strategy focused on the Pakistan side would just mean Al Qaeda hops the border.
    The next argument is invariably the ‘well they’ll just go somewhere else.’ To which I argue…in most conflict zones in this world that would largely be correct (Yemen, Somalia, Iraq.) But the AfPak border region is the clear exception to that rule.
    Looking at the long, sad, violent three-decade history of Al Qaeda, one thing becomes clear…this region has been their guaranteed stronghold for the entirety of their existence.
    When the chips were down fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, they retreated to the border region.
    When leading the offensive against the Communist Najibullah government in the early 90s, they could rely upon this region.
    When they failed to establish a new safe haven in Somalia in the early 90s and were kindly asked to leave Bosnia following the Dayton Accords…they went back to AfPak.
    When Osama was booted from the Sudan, he naturally went to AfPak.
    When the US & Northern Alliance swept into Kabul and Kandahar, it was the border that they re-established themselves.
    And now, AQI a shadow of what it once was…the jihadi veterans of that war are naturally flocking to the border.
    Denying this region as a permanent safe haven for Al Qaeda is absolutely necessary. Too often its been the lifeline that has kept AQ’s leadership breathing. To get them to run from that area would be brilliant. It would be overwhelmingly preferable to track them anywhere else where they aren’t as firmly entrenched.

  • DANNY says:

    It looks like to me that Michael Yon hears what he want to hear. Sorry yon but we don’t buy your distorted view of reality. AQ is a lord of the Taliban and hoping to move on to the rest of the world as soon as you cave in and stop fighting. Sorry, to disappoint, but they are going to cut your head off even as you root for them.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Michael Yon is an excellent photojournalist but he does seem to carry around a myriad of resentment toward the military brass who manage his embeds.

  • Scott says:

    Arne is point on. Mr Yon is ticked his embed was ended. He has been out in the field for quite some time. Maybe he needs some R&R.

  • TomEgatherion says:

    The attack in the video…is this the Jan 7 2010 attack on COP Bowri Tana that killed a Sgt. from the 25th ID?
    Bori Tanah, Bowri Tana….tough to follow sometimes.


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