Analysis: Al Qaeda martyrdom tape shows nature and extent of terror group’s reach in Afghanistan


The banner for al Qaeda’s propaganda tape, titled “Winds of Paradise – Part 5, Eulogizing 5 ‘Martyrs,'” from the Ansar forum.

A recently released al Qaeda martyrdom videotape identifies five foreign commanders who have fought and died in Afghanistan within the past few years. The profiles of these commanders reveal that, in sharp contrast to the current, official assessment of top US intelligence officials, al Qaeda has an extensive network in Afghanistan as well as a deep bench of experienced leaders. Also, the martyrdom statement shows how al Qaeda rotates its cadre of leaders to ensure that seasoned commanders are on hand in critical areas.

The tape, titled “Winds of Paradise – Part 5, Eulogizing 5 ‘Martyrs,'” was released by As Sahab (Clouds), al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, and was distributed on several jihadist forums. A translation of the tape was provided to The Long War Journal.

Five al Qaeda commanders: Abu abd al Rahman al Madani, Abd al Wakil al Pakistani, Abu Salamah al Najdi, Luqman al Makki, and Abu al Walid al Jaza’iri, are eulogized by al Qaeda for dying while fighting in Afghanistan. [Profiles of the commanders are below.]

The slain al Qaeda commanders were “colonel-level equivalents” in the Lashkar al Zil, or Jaish al Usrah, al Qaeda’s military, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Each had an average of 10 years of experience in al Qaeda, and commanded relatively large forces over a wide area of Afghanistan.

The commanders were also part of al Qaeda’s cadre of future leaders who step in when more senior leaders are killed in US Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and elsewhere.

“These are perfect examples of the relative unknowns that make up al Qaeda’s deep bench of middle management and talent pool they can draw on for senior leadership positions,” the intelligence official explained.

Two of the commanders, al Najdi and al Makki, had been promoted by Abu Laith al Libi, the revered former leader of al Qaeda’s Brigade 055 who was killed in a US Predator strike in North Waziristan in January 2008. Brigade 055 is al Qaeda’s original military formation in Afghanistan, and fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in the 1990s.

Al Makki and another of the five commanders, al Jaza’iri, had fought elsewhere for al Qaeda before coming to the Afghan theater. Al Jaza’iri had served with al Qaeda in Iraq before moving to Afghanistan in 2004, while al Makki had worked with al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Both men shared their skills learned on other battlefields with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The five al Qaeda commanders led significant al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. They commanded al Qaeda forces in seven of the country’s 34 provinces: in Kandahar, Helmand, Farah, and Zabul in the south; and in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost in the east.

This picture mirrors the analysis of al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan by The Long War Journal, and contradicts statements made by top Obama administration intelligence officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter. Last spring, Panetta and Leiter claimed that only 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives are active in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda’s extensive reach in Afghanistan is documented in the body of press releases issued in recent years by the International Security Assistance Force. Looking at press releases dating back to March 2007, The Long War Journal has been able to detect the presence of al Qaeda and affiliated groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union in 62 different districts in 19 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

This view is reinforced when looking at al Qaeda’s martyrdom statements for its leaders and fighters killed in Afghanistan. [For an example of al Qaeda’s propaganda statements on foreign fighters killed in Afghanistan, see Threat Matrix report, Are there ‘al Qaeda guys’ in Afghanistan?.]

NATO routinely targets al Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan, and occasionally kills some of their commanders. In the past month, two foreign al Qaeda operatives, a senior al Qaeda leader from Saudi Arabia named Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi and an explosives expert named Abu Atta al Kuwaiti, were killed in a US airstrike in Kunar province. Several “Arabic foreign fighters” were also said to have been killed in the same strike. Sa’ad Mohammad al Shahri, a longtime jihadist and the son of a retired Saudi colonel, is thought to have been among them.

Profiles of the five al Qaeda commanders

Abu abd al Rahman al Madani

Al Madani was a Saudi citizen who left his home country in 1998 and traveled to Afghanistan to join al Qaeda. He received his training at the Khalden Camp, which was run by notorious al Qaeda commander Ibn al Shaykh al Libi.

Al Madani fought with the Taliban after the US invasion in October 2001. Along with other Taliban and al Qaeda commanders and fighters, he retreated to the northern city of Kunduz after the fall of the Taliban regime. He returned to Saudi Arabia to join al Qaeda’s organization there. In 2004 he was detained by Saudi security forces, and then sent back to Afghanistan. Al Madani spent nine months in an Afghan prison, and then was released from custody.

In the spring of 2005, al Madani rejoined al Qaeda, and was quickly assigned as the operations leader for Zabul province. “He participated in every single operation, supervised the process of information gathering, planned the operations, and took part in them,” according to the al Qaeda martyrdom statement.

Abd al Wakil al Pakistani

Al Pakistani was from the “Ata-abad region” in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1998. “In the camps of Afghanistan, he received his training before moving to the front of Kabul where he joined his comrades in jihad.”

After fighting US and Northern Alliance forces in 2001-2002, al Pakistani went into “isolation” for an unspecified amount of time. He returned to Afghanistan in 2004, and quickly was assigned as the military commander of the Paktia and Paktika front, one of the most important regions in eastern Afghanistan and in the heart of the Haqqani Network’s territory.

According to al Qaeda, al Pakistani was an expert in carrying out mortar, rocket, and anti-aircraft attacks, as well as ambushes and IED attacks on ISAF and Afghan Army convoys. In 2007, al Pakistani was transferred to Helmand province, where he “led his brothers in many raiding operations against the British forces.” He then moved to Farah province in 2008, where he was killed along with “his comrade Khalid al Afghani” during a clash with ISAF forces.

Abu Salamah al Najdi

Al Najdi was a Saudi citizen who “arrived in Afghanistan … shortly before the conquests of the blessed Tuesday,” a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US. He trained in an al Qaeda camp.

Al Najdi fought with al Qaeda and the Taliban against US forces during Operation Anaconda in the Shahikot Mountains in Zurmat district in Khost province in March 2002. After al Qaeda and Taliban forces retreated from the Shahikot Mountains, he relocated to Jalalabad, where he remained until 2004.

He then linked up with Abu Laith al Libi, the commander of the 055 Brigade. Two years later, in 2006, al Najdi took charge “of the Khost front and the two areas of Dabgai and Shinkai” in eastern Afghanistan. As the commander of the Khost front, he organized military attacks as well as rocket and mortar attacks against US and Afghan bases in the area. He is said to have led a raid against a US airbase in Khost.

Luqman al Makki

It is unclear when al Makki, who is very likely from Saudi Arabia (Makki = Mecca), joined al Qaeda. According to his martyrdom statement, he fought alongside Abu Laith al Libi “after the occupation” of Afghanistan.

In 2004, al Makki “became responsible for running some administrative and military tasks.” He was quickly promoted by Abu Laith, who “noticed Luqman’s quick development and his ability to run the work.”

“No one of the men of Shaykh Abu al Laith [al Libi] held the same position Luqman had,” his martyrdom statement read.

Al Qaeda claimed that al Makki downed a US aircraft on a mountain in 2005. He was assigned as the commander of the “Luwarah front in Paktika Province” in 2006.

Abu al Walid al Jaza’iri

Al Jaza’iri, who is from North Africa, fought US forces in Iraq prior to joining al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He “reached the front of Khorasan [the Afghanistan-Pakistan region] … after he had spent some time in Iraq where he joined his brother in jihad and encampment,” his martyrdom statement read.

He became adept at “booby-trapping vehicles” and passed his skills along to other al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. He trained terrorists in “martyrdom-seeking operations,” or suicide attacks, “with physical trainings and shooting with live ammunition. This is in addition to providing them with the information that will help them to understand how to deal with the Crusader forces.”

In 2007, al Jaza’iri went to Helmand province, where “he had supervised the process of preparing a number of vehicles, which turned the checkpoints and vehicles of the enemy into hellfire” in suicide car bomb attacks. He also organized a suicide truck bombing against a US airbase in Khost in 2008, and died in the late summer in 2008.

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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  • Saarland says:

    I don’t know where Bin Laden is located, but I do know that terrorist don’t make good graphic artists. Jesus they need help in that department!

  • Paul says:

    I noticed alot of Saudis mentioned.Must look at their education in school/mosques!

  • kp says:

    The target market is for a different culture than yours: jihadi’s and potential hard-core muslims. Some of the newer styles seem to be more Western leading (sacrilege?) and more targeted to “jihobbyists” (think WIRED for potential jihadis rather a technical journal).

    I suspect older graphic design style of AQC videos (As Sahab) is patterned after books though the whole ideea of showing images of people seems idolatrous to me (but perhaps I’m too hardcore :-). But the masses and the smiling and the high density in this example. It’s all about signifying togetherness in paradise.

    The newer affiliates seem to embracing more modern Western graphic design styles e.g.

    I wonder if there is a generation gap in the group i.e. the people running As Sahab are older (and more harried being in AFPAK as opposed to the younger, less isolated, more Western influenced guys? I wonder if this is a tension between the groups?

    The AQAP and other affiliates have a much more modern looking style. Watch the whole slideshow to see an evolution of sorts

  • TLA says:

    Bad news with the banner, chaps: it looks like they’re all radiated.

  • Saarland says:

    @kp good links. I don’t think with their current marketing they should be in the lead in PSYOPs. If we are loosing in this area I think its more in line with what Peter Bergen’s article.

  • Neo says:

    I don’t know about the people running As Sahab being any older. The various groups are getting more local than they used to be. The coalition against them has been somewhat successful in at least disrupting the easy flow of volunteers from one region to another. Before 2005 if the Saudi’s let you out of jail you could easily go to Dubai and get a plane ticket to anywhere they would let you in. After Al Qaeda targeted the Saudi Royals and oil terminals, the Saudi’s started taking it personally. The Saudi’s are also very careful about how exposed their personnel are to the militants. A large percentage of those personnel think they are fighting on the wrong side.
    Even though the flow of personnel may be slowed Al Qaeda still goes to some lengths to mix in international personnel. They also never totally give up a theater of battle either. Both are part of doctrine. If you fight the local Muslims, Al Qaeda makes sure you are fighting representatives of the entire Muslim Ummah. At least that seems to be the way they see it.

  • ramgun says:

    Of course its the Saudis and oil money that are behind this terrorism! But US has always followed a myopic policy of backing terrorists to counter others (in this case to counter Iran and safeguard oil). One day of course the terrorists turn on them (la Saddam, mujahideen and now Pakistan). Then this whole charade that is being played out for Pakistan will repeat with Saudi… and so on
    Please guys…. dont you see your own country’s short sightedness and hypocrisy? Its pretty obvious out here in Asia

  • jayc says:

    Ramgun, very valid points, all. Just to illustrate our political leadership, here is a “blast from the past.”
    President Franklin D. Roosevelt was once asked why he supported the Nicaraguan dictator, a Mr. Somoza. The man was well known for his abuses and cruelty. FDR replied, tongue in cheek, “He might be a SOB, but he’s our SOB.”

  • Bungo says:

    It’s called “pragmatism” Ramgun. We have to play with the cards we’re dealt at the time they’re dealt. We prioritize our enemies and threats to our security and deal with the one(s) who eventually make their way to the top of the list. Sometimes today’s allies remain allies and sometimes they become enemies. It goes both ways and is often hard to predict.
    Apologists and defenders of The Jihadists always seem to forget that we, for all intents and purposes, ignored The Jihadis until they attacked New York on 9/11. If they hadn’t done that they could still be chopping off every head in Afghanistan and no one would intervene. Instead the Taliban and Al Queda opted to enrage the world’s most powerful military super-power. That was the stupidist thing they could ever have done. They will now reap the whirlwind.
    I always laugh when the Jihadists say they did this as part of their plan to create Islamic Taliban-like rule in places like Saudi Arabia or Egypt. What they don’t grasp is that if the majority of those people wanted such a country they could revolt (like they did in Iran) and make it so overnight. The Jihadist minority will never succeed in modern countries where the vast majority of people just want to live, work and raise their children in peace. Their only possible success will be in 17th century nations like Somalia, Yemen or Afghanistan. If they stopped terrorizing Western nations we would be out of there in a heartbeat. They’re not very smart.

  • blert says:

    FDR backed Stalin against Hitler. Practical beats morality every time in war policy.
    It is adolescent to think that ANY nation can behave consistently in foreign policy.
    Musharraf only allied himself with Bush because he had absolutely no choice. His alternative was open warfare — straight up — with America enraged by 911. Obviously he would have been nuked. (Yes, they were on the table.)
    When you’re a great power, let alone an ultra-power, you operate with endless conflicting priorities. Unintended consequences dog your every move.
    If America were even to attempt to tell everyone – with force – what ought to be it would be regarded by all and every as tyranny.
    Example: UK Guardian prints that US forces should have overruled Iraqi military policy and meddled in Iraqi on Iraqi justice and interrogations. Obviously, to have done what the Guardian posits would be to run all over official Bagdad and cause absolute chaos.
    When Bush said he wanted their government to run the show — he meant it. And so we HAD to back away and let Iraq be Iraq.
    We’ve got the same problem in Kabul. We cannot change the culture into a clone of ourselves or into any form that would silence critics. We simply have to accept that Kabul is Kabul.
    Likewise, transforming KSA into a multi-cultural democracy would most likely entail nuking most of the ummah and completely replacing the current population. While that might make you ‘happy’ about a non-hypocritical war policy, I can assure you that such a project is not even on the ‘hypotheticals’ list.
    BTW, were your parents ever completely consistent? If so, they’d be unique in all humanity.

  • Villiger says:

    blert, as smart as you think you are, that was pretty classless of you to drag in ramgun’s parents into this.
    And btw you’re going on in a senile fashion about ‘consistency’ when the man didn’t even use that word.
    He talked about short-sightedness. And i think you help him make his point when you blurt out the kinda stuff that makes other people dislike Americans not just because of their stupidity but also because of their insensitivity borne out of lack of (global) cultural exposure. Freedom fries are great, but burgers are pretty limiting.

  • James says:

    Villiger, in defense of blert, I believe you are misinterpreting what he’s saying. There is no such thing as “complete consistency” in any nation’s foreign policy.
    He was only bringing his parents into the topic to drive home his point and for comparison purposes.
    The most effective foreign policy has to evolve and change with the times and the current environment it finds itself in.
    Also, please define for me what is “global cultural exposure?” Isn’t that like going contrary to the maxim that: You can never satisfy all of the people all of the time?


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