Within the past several days, the US military has begun to publicly identify the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other foreign fighters based in Pakistan, as well as a Pakistani Taliban group, as constituting direct threats to Coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
In what may be a dramatic shift, the official press releases from the US-led International Security Assistance Force and other Department of Defense outlets published on US military websites are starting to mention specific links between insurgents in Afghanistan and their sponsors in Pakistan.
The shift began on July 3, when ISAF announced that it had captured a Taliban commander, a Taliban facilitator, and two fighters during a raid in the eastern province of Nangarhar. “The commander is directly linked to the Taliban emir of Khugyani district and assisted with the recent influx of Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) insurgents into the province,” ISAF stated in the press release.
Four days later, ISAF reported the capture of another Taliban commander who is tied to Lashkar-e-Taiba operations in Khugyani district in Nangarhar province. “The commander had direct contact with a Taliban commander detained by the security force July 3,” ISAF reported on July 7. “He was also directly linked to the overall Taliban emir of Khugyani District and associated with the recent influx of Lashkar-e Tayyiba operatives into the province,” ISAF reported on July 7.
In all, two initial press releases and four related stories from ISAF and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs discussed the capture of the two Taliban commanders linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Prior to these six recent press releases, there have been only three official releases that discussed the Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to the archives of official military press releases stored at the DVIDS website. Two were issued in December 2008 and one in January 2010. All three releases discussed Lashkar-e-Taiba in relation to the threat to India, however, and not Afghanistan.
Just one day after the US military issued its latest press release on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, it issued another unprecedented press release, this time mentioning a Taliban commander in Ghazni province linked to Pakistani, Arab, and Chechen fighters.
“An Afghan-international security force detained two suspected insurgents in Ghazni province this morning while pursuing a Taliban commander who is responsible for smuggling Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters and improvised explosive device materials into Shah Joy District from Pakistan,” ISAF stated in a press release.
And today, the US military issued another press release linking Taliban fighters to al Qaeda and a Pakistani Taliban leader coddled by the Pakistani government.
“An Afghan and international security force killed several insurgents and detained two suspected insurgents in Ghazni province yesterday while pursuing a Taliban commander in direct contact with Taliban leadership in Pakistan and associated with al Qaeda and Commander Nazir Group,” an ISAF press release stated.
Commander Nazir is none other than Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Wazir Taliban in South Waziristan. Nazir is considered a “good Taliban” leader despite his open support for al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Nazir’s own forces carry out attacks inside Afghanistan. Nazir does not support attacks against the Pakistani state but backs terror groups that do, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The Pakistani government has cut several peace deals with Nazir in the past.
The US military has never mentioned Mullah Nazir before in any of its press releases on Afghanistan.
In the past, the US military has occasionally mentioned Pakistani links to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. For instance, in early 2009, there was a big push to directly name top Afghan Taliban leaders based in Pakistan. But up until today, the US military had yet to officially acknowledge the presence of Chechens in Afghanistan in its press releases. There has been only one mention of Chechens in the military’s press releases prior to July 10, and that was related to Chechens in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Although the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Chechen fighters have been operating against Coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan for years, the US military has been hesitant to directly identify these groups. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, and Chechen fighters are known to have carried out multiple attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces in northern and eastern Afghanistan for years. In addition, Chechen fighters have been identified in Taliban propaganda videos as carrying out attacks against US combat outposts in Kunar and Nuristan.
While US military and civilian leaders previously have publicly identified Pakistan-based terror groups, such as the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura Taliban, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami faction as being direct threats to Afghanistan’s security, the recent identification of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other groups in the official military press releases is significant because it indicates that the military views these groups as a direct threat and has now begun to openly target them.
• IJC Operational Update, July 11, ISAF Press Release
• IJC Operational Update, July 10, ISAF Press Release
• IJC Operational Update, July 9 ISAF Press Release
• Officials in Afghanistan Describe Recent Operations, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
• IJC Operational Update, July 7 ISAF Press Release
• International, Afghan Team Investigates Air Strike, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
• Forces Conduct Operations in Three Afghan Provinces, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
• Taliban commander linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba detained in eastern Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
• IJC Operational Update, July 3, ISAF Press Release
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.