IMU-linked Taliban shadow governor captured in Afghan north

During an overnight raid in the northern province of Takhar, Coalition and Afghan special operations forces captured a senior Taliban commander with links to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The combined special forces teams captured the Taliban’s shadow governor for the district of Chahar Darah in Kunduz during a raid in the district of Darquad in neighboring Takhar province, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

Although ISAF did not name the Taliban commander, Pajwhok Afghan News identified him as Saifullah. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that the shadow governor for Chahar Darah was captured.

Saifullah “maintained close ties with senior Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leadership in northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, and terrorized the local populace by forcibly collecting taxes from residents, intimidating relatives of police and conducting attacks against government buildings.” He also was “directly involved” in the September 2009 kidnapping of New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell. Farrell was freed days later during a joint US and Afghan raid in Kunduz.

ISAF has been hunting Saifullah for some time, and had previously targeted Saifullah in an airstrike in Kunduz’s Aliabad district on Sept. 16.

Saifullah is the latest IMU-linked commander killed or captured in the northern Afghan provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, and Takhar [see LWJ reports, Coalition continues pursuit of IMU commanders in the Afghan north and Uzbek terror commander serving as Taliban shadow governor killed by US special forces].

Afghan north a haven for terror groups

Kunduz province is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan 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.

Over the past two years, the security situation in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan has deteriorated. The Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), the Haqqani Network, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan all have a presence in the two provinces and have been attacking Coalition and Afghan forces as well as NATO supply lines from Tajikistan.

The Taliban and allied terror groups maintain safe havens in Baghlan and Kunduz, and control large portions of the provinces. Of the seven districts in Kunduz province, only two are considered under government control; the rest of the districts – Chahar Dara, Dashti Archi, Ali Abab, Khan Abad, and Iman Sahib – are considered contested or under Taliban control, according to a map produced by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry in the spring of 2009. Two districts in neighboring Baghlan province – Baghlan-i-Jadid and Burka – are under the control of the Taliban [see LWJ report, Afghan forces and Taliban clash in Kunduz, and Threat Matrix report, Afghanistan’s wild-wild North].

The governor of Kunduz recently stated the security situation in the province has stabilized, but there are still more that more than 1,000 Taliban fighters and over 200 “foreigners, including Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks, and Arabs” active there, according to Pajwhok Afghan News.

The governor also stated that more than 40 percent of the rural areas of Kunduz are still under control of the Taliban. Just yesterday, the Taliban murdered a senior tribal leader in Imam Sahib. And in the village of Tarbuz Guzar, just north of Chahar Darah, a small town militia opposed to the Taliban is under siege. The militia complains that the government will not provide support, despite promises.

Background on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the region

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is based in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, and primarily operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border and in northern Afghanistan. According to one estimate, more than 3,000 Uzbeks and other Central Asian fighters are sheltering in North Waziristan.

Since Sept. 1, the US has ramped up airstrikes against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 21 strikes that month and three more already this month. 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.

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters often serve as bodyguards to top Pakistani Taliban leaders. The IMU fights alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In northern Afghanistan, the IMU has integrated its operations with the Taliban, and senior leaders serve as members of the Taliban’s shadow government [see LWJ report, Coalition continues pursuit of IMU commanders in the Afghan north].

Tajikistan has seen an uptick in attacks from Islamist terror groups since the summer of 2009. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda-linked IMU claims deadly ambush on Tajik troops.] In late spring of that year, NATO opened a supply line from Tajikistan into northern Afghanistan after the Taliban and allied groups heavily targeted the main NATO route from Pakistan.


Taliban district leader for Chahar Darah captured in Takhar, ISAF press release

Commander among three held in Takhar, Pajwhok Afghan News

Security focus shifts to north, Pajwhok Afghan News

NATO commandos free NYT reporter, Threat Matrix

NYT reporter kidnapped in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Threat Matrix

Coalition continues pursuit of IMU commanders in the Afghan north, The Long War Journal

Afghan Village Fights To Keep Taliban At Bay, RFE/RL

Uzbek terror commander serving as Taliban shadow governor killed by US special forces, The Long War Journal

Afghan forces and Taliban clash in Kunduz, The Long War Journal

Afghanistan’s wild-wild North,Threat Matrix

Coalition continues pursuit of IMU commanders in the Afghan north, The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda-linked IMU claims deadly ambush on Tajik troops, 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.

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