Coalition and Afghan forces killed one of the top two Taliban commanders in the strategic southern province of Kandahar during a raid yesterday.
A top military commander named Haji Amir and “several of his fighters” were killed Sunday morning in “a precision air strike” in the Taliban-controlled district of Panjwai in Kandahar, the International Security Assistance Force said in a press release.
Amir, who is also known as Haji Agha, was killed in an airstrike after he and his security detail stopped at a farm in the village of Zangabad. Intelligence assets had tracked Amir “for several days.”
ISAF considers Amir to be “one of the two most senior Taliban leaders in Kandahar province.” The current shadow governor of Kandahar is said to be Mohibullah Akhundzada, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Amir was recently in Pakistan to plan the Taliban’s counteroffensive in Kandahar and returned in April to lead his forces against Afghan and Coalition troops. The Taliban’s top council, the Quetta Shura, is thought to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan province.
US military intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that Amir is a top military commander in the province. He is known to operate in the Taliban stronghold districts of Panjwai, Dand, and Zhari.
Amir escaped from Afghan custody during the 2008 jailbreak at the Sarposa Prison in Kandahar City. Scores of Taliban commanders and fighters, as well as criminals, were sprung from the prison during the coordinated assault by suicide bombers and armed squads who overpowered the prison guards.
The Taliban have denied reports that Amir is dead and claimed no top leaders have been killed or captured in the past week.
Over the past several months, US and Afghan special operations forces have been conducting raids against the Taliban’s top leaders and operatives in Kandahar to prepare the battlefield for an upcoming offensive that seeks to wrest control of the province from the Taliban. The US has placed great importance on the need to secure Kandahar, which is considered the ideological and spiritual home of the Taliban. Two brigades of the additional troops surging into Afghanistan are slated to deploy in Kandahar in the upcoming months.
But a Department of Defense survey of the situation in key districts in Afghanistan paints a grim picture of public support for the government in the south. In Kandahar and Helmand, the two provinces considered to be the key to the Taliban’s power in the south, the majority of the population is considered to be ambivalent toward the Afghan government and the Coalition, or sympathetic to or supportive of the Taliban.
Of the 11 of Kandahar’s 13 districts assessed earlier this year, one district (Kandahar City) supported the government, three districts were considered neutral, six were sympathetic to the Taliban, and one supported the Taliban. Of the 11 of Helmand’s 13 districts assessed, eight of the districts were considered neutral, one was sympathetic to the Taliban, and two supported the Taliban.
The US has indicated that it will begin turning over security to the Afghan Army and police by July 2011 and that it will also start to withdraw its forces from the country at that time.