Qari Zia Rahman and a map of northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Map from the Asia Times; click to view.
Afghan security forces backed by Coalition forces air assaulted yesterday into an area in eastern Afghanistan that has served as “a safe haven and staging base” for the Taliban and al Qaeda. And for the first time, the US military has identified Qari Zia Rahman as the top Taliban and al Qaeda commander for the region.
A combined Afghan and US force of about 400 conventional and border police along with US troops air assaulted into the town of Chenar in Marawara district in Kunar “to further disrupt insurgent operations throughout the area,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. There have been no reports of enemy or allied casualties.
“The Afghan National Security Forces executed a well-planned, well-executed strike, taking the fight to the enemy once again,” said Lieutenant Colonel Randall Harris, the deputy commanding officer of Task Force Bastogne, said. “Marawara is safer today due to their skill and devotion to the security of the people.”
The US military and Afghan forces began to target Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Marawara on June 27, when a battalion-sized force of about 700 troops and policemen air assaulted into Marawara. More than 150 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are said to have been killed in the fighting, which lasted for several days.
Marawara lies directly on the border with Pakistan, and borders the Bajaur tribal agency, a known haven for Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda. Ayman al Zawahiri is known to have sheltered in Bajaur with Faqir Mohammed, the top Taliban leader in the tribal agency and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Bajaur has also been used by al Qaeda as a command and control center for operations in the northeast.
ISAF identified Marawara as “a safe haven and staging base for insurgents under the command of Qari Zia ur-Rahman, a Taliban leader and known member of Al Qaeda operating in Kunar Province.” Qari Zia’s forces “are responsible for threats and attacks against both Afghan civilians and Coalition forces.”
“He claimed responsibility for the female suicide bomber that injured two Afghan children and killed two US soldiers [on] June 21,” ISAF stated.
Today’s ISAF press release contains the first recorded mention of Qari Zia in a US military press release, and is part of the US military’s recent push to directly identify terrorist activities with Pakistan-based groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba [see LWJ report, US military begins to link Afghan Taliban to Pakistani terror groups].
Qari Zia Rahman is the Taliban’s top regional commander as well as a member of al Qaeda. He operates in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province in Afghanistan, and he also operates across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Bajaur. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government claimed they killed Qari Zia in an airstrike, but he later spoke to the media and mocked Pakistan’s interior minister for wrongly reporting his death.
Qari Zia is closely allied with Faqir Mohammed as well as with Osama bin Laden. Qari Zia’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.
The top al Qaeda commander in Kunar province is Abu Ikhlas al Masri, an Egyptian who has spent years in Afghanistan and has intermarried with the local tribes. Abu Ikhlas is al Qaeda’s operations chief for Kunar province, having assumed command after Abu Ubaidah al Masri was promoted to take over al Qaeda’s external operations branch (Abu Ubaidah died in early 2008 of a disease).
• Afghan, ISAF Forces Secure Eastern Afghan Town, ISAF press release
• Afghan, US forces launch offensive in Kunar, The Long War Journal
• Taliban commander linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba detained in eastern Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
• US military begins to link Afghan Taliban to Pakistani terror groups, The Long War Journal
• Egyptian al Qaeda leader reported killed in South Waziristan airstrike, The Long War Journal
• Top Taliban, al Qaeda leaders reported killed in Mohmand airstrikes, The Long War Journal
• Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’, The Long War Journal
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.