Coalition and Afghan forces captured a senior facilitator for the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU] with links to Iran during a raid yesterday in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. The raid is the latest against the terror group in the Afghan north.
The IMU “foreign fighter facilitator,” who was not named, was captured along with several associates during a special operations raid in the village of Basuz in the Taliban-controlled Chahar Darah district. Security forces found weapons and materials used to make roadside bombs at the compound.
“The commander maintains ties to local Taliban as well as Iranian-based Uzbek Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan facilitators,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.
A senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that the captured IMU facilitator operates in Iran with the support of Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“Qods Force helps the IMU and al Qaeda move fighters into Afghanistan, and backs local Taliban groups,” the official stated.
Coalition and Afghan forces also targeted a Taliban district leader who commands al Qaeda fighters, during a raid yesterday in the village of Gerdan in Chahar Darah district. “The commander maintains connections with Pakistani-based Taliban leadership and commands a group of al Qaeda and Taliban members within his district,” ISAF stated in a press release. The Taliban commander was not captured but one Taliban fighter was detained.
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 Alibad, Chahar Darah, and Kunduz; or three of Kunduz’s seven districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Yesterday’s raids in Kunduz against the IMU and al Qaeda commanders are the latest by special operations forces in the Afghan north. Since August, ISAF and Afghan forces have killed or captured several terror leaders in the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, and Takhar.
Among those killed are Abu Baqir, described as “a dual-hatted Taliban sub-commander and al Qaeda group leader,” who also was a senior leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Kunduz; Mohammed Amin, the deputy shadow governor for Takhar province and a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commander; and Attallah, the Taliban’s shadow district governor of Darquad district in Takhar and a senior IMU commander. Also, a senior Taliban military commissioner in Takhar was captured.
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 is videotaped advising his fighters to welcome the foreign fighters among the rank and file.
Background on Iran’s covert support for the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan
For years, ISAF has stated that Taliban fighters have conducted training inside Iran, with the aid of the Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. On May 30, 2010, former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal said that Iran is training Taliban fighters and providing them with weapons.
“The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran,” McChrystal said at a press conference. “The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan.”
General David Petraeus, the new ISAF commander, also asserted that Iran has and continues to back the Taliban. “There is no question that Iran has over the years and we think does continue to provide a modicum of assistance to the Taliban,” Petraeus said on Aug. 25, 2010.
In March 2010, a Taliban commander admitted that Iran has been training teams of Taliban fighters in small unit tactics. “Our religions and our histories are different, but our target is the same – we both want to kill Americans,” the commander told The Sunday Times, rebutting the common analysis that Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda could not cooperate due to ideological differences.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force has tasked the Ansar Corps with aiding the Taliban and other terror groups in Afghanistan. Based in Mashhad in northeastern Iran, the Ansar Corps operates much like the Ramazan Corps, which supports and directs Shia terror groups in Iraq. [See LWJ report, Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq.]
On Aug. 6, 2010, General Hossein Musavi, the commander of the Ansar Corps, was one of two Qods Force commanders added to the US Treasury’s list of specially designated global terrorists for directly providing support to the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda is known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashhad. Al Qaeda additionally uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to move its operatives into Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Return to Jihad.]
Background on known Taliban commanders who work with Iran’s Qods Force
In recent years, the US military has targeted several Taliban commanders in western Afghanistan who are known to receive support from the Qods Force.
On July 16, US and Afghan forces killed Mullah Akhtar, a Taliban commander in Farah province, and several of his fighters, during a raid on a training camp used by foreign fighters. Akhtar “had close ties with Taliban and al Qaeda senior leaders,” ISAF stated in a press release. He “was responsible for arranging training for foreign fighters from Iran and helped resolve disputes between militant networks.” Intelligence officials also told The Long War Journal that Akhtar was closely tied to the Qods Force.
Another Iranian-linked Taliban commander is Mullah Mustafa, who operates in Ghor province. The US military said Mustafa commands more than 100 fighters and receives support from Iran’s Qods Force. ISAF thought it killed Mustafa in a June 9, 2009, airstrike in a rural area in Ghor, but Mustafa later spoke to the media and denied reports of his death.
Ghlam Yahya Akbari is yet another Taliban commander who has worked closely with the Qods Force. He served as a commander in Herat province. Akbari, who was known as the “Tajik Taliban,” claimed to operate more than 20 bases in Herat and boasted of having more than 600 fighters under his command. He facilitated the movement of foreign fighters, or al Qaeda, from Iran into Afghanistan, and helped them transit to the battlefields in Helmand and Kandahar. Akbari was killed in a special operations raid in Herat in October 2009. Samihullah, Akbari’s replacement, has even closer ties to al Qaeda and continues to facilitate the movement of al Qaeda fighters from Iran into Afghanistan.
Prior to the fall of Mullah Omar’s regime in late 2001, Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, the former Taliban governor of Herat province who is currently in US custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, served as the Taliban’s liaison to Iran. Khairkhwa “was present at a clandestine meeting in October of 2001 between Taliban and Iranian officials in which Iran pledged to assist the Taliban in their war with the United States,” according to documents from the US government’s unclassified files on Gitmo detainees. According to one document, he met with Hizb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Hekmatyar, who runs one of the three largest Taliban-linked insurgent groups in Afghanistan, is also closely linked to Iran. He was backed by the Iranians during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, and sheltered inside Iran from 1996 to 2002, under the care of the IRGC.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.