Coalition continues pursuit of IMU commanders in the Afghan north

Coalition and Afghan special operations teams continue to target the networks of al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in northern Afghanistan. Today combined forces launched a pair of raids in the province of Kunduz against leaders of the terror groups, killing a district leader and seven fighters, and detaining two more.

Coalition forces launched a “precision airstrike” against the Taliban’s shadow district commander (or governor) for Aliabad as he met with other leaders and fighters in a remote field in the nearby district of Chahar Darah.

Six Taliban fighters were initially killed in the airstrike, and two more were killed in a follow-on raid by ground forces. The district commander, Juma Gul, was later confirmed killed in the strike.

Gul was targeted in an earlier raid by ISAF and Afghan forces. The Aug. 29 raid, which also took place in Chahar Darah, resulted in the capture of one Taliban fighter.

Aliabad has been a stronghold of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al Qaeda-linked Central Asian terror group based in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In mid-August, US forces killed Abu Baqir, who was described as “a dual-hatted Taliban sub-commander and al Qaeda group leader” by ISAF, after he and other members of his cell attacked the district’s police station. Baqir also served as an IMU sub-commander.

In a separate raid today, also in Chahar Darah district, combined Coalition and Afghan forces targeted an IMU commander who “is well integrated with Taliban senior leadership in Kunduz and maintains contact with Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leadership in Pakistan.” Two “insurgents” were detained during the raid.

Kunduz province is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Aliabad, Chahar Darah, and Kunduz; or three of Kunduz’s seven districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

The raids in Kunduz are the latest against forces of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that are in the province. Yesterday, security forces captured an IMU “foreign fighter facilitator” who “maintains ties to local Taliban as well as Iranian-based Uzbek Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan facilitators.” Also yesterday, combined forces targeted a commander who “maintains connections with Pakistani-based Taliban leadership and commands a group of al Qaeda and Taliban members within his district.” The US has also killed and captured several IMU commanders in the nearby province of Takhar.

Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other foreign terror groups are swelling the ranks of the Taliban in the Afghan north, according to Al Jazeera. Taliban commanders have admitted that up to one-third of the fighters of some units are manned by foreign fighters. One commander was videotaped advising his fighters to welcome the foreign fighters among the rank and file.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is based in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan. “It is estimated that around 3,000 Uzbeks (not to mention a number of militants belonging to other Central Asian states) have taken shelter in the region” in addition to more than 2,000 al Qaeda fighters, The Christian Science Monitor reported today.

Over the past several weeks, the US has ramped up airstrikes against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 13 strikes this month alone. The IMU’s former leader, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed in a US Predator airstrike in South Waziristan in September 2009. Yuldashev sat on al Qaeda’s top council, the Shura Majlis. He has been replaced by Abu Usman Adil.

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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