A Coalition special operations team killed the Taliban’s shadow governor of a contested district in Helmand province who also served as the military commander in the northern half of the province.
Mullah Abdul Qayoum, the Taliban’s shadow governor for the district of Sangin, and 10 Taliban fighters were killed in the Nov. 20 airstrike in the nearby district of Kajaki. The strike targeted “a district level Taliban command and control center.” ISAF believed that a meeting of senior commanders was taking place at the time of the strike.
In addition to serving as the Taliban’s chief in Sangin, Qayoum also was responsible for the “overall military command for Sangin and northern Helmand,” ISAF stated in a press release. “He appointed all leaders, provided guidance and allocated personnel and financial support to all Taliban leaders operating in the area.” He ordered and directed attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces, personally participated in these attacks, and is said to have been an expert in manufacturing roadside bombs.
As the overall military commander in northern Helmand, Qayoum commanded an estimated 600 to 800 fighters, an ISAF Joint Command public affairs official told The Long War Journal.
“Estimates are based on the fact that he commanded 20-25 commanders and each commander led 30-50 insurgents,” the official stated.
Qayoum was in direct contact with senior Taliban leaders from the Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura, one of four main Taliban commands, all of which are based in Pakistan. The Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura is based in the Gerdi Jangal refugee camp in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. This regional military shura focuses exclusively on Helmand and Nimroz provinces. The Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura was led by Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since been promoted as the Taliban’s top military commander.
Qayoum was the “direct conduit of information and guidance from senior Taliban leadership hiding in Pakistan to local Taliban leaders in Sangin and the surrounding areas,” ISAF stated.
The district of Sangin is one of the most violent in all of Afghanistan. In late September, British forces withdrew from the volatile district, in which roughly a third (120) of all UK combat deaths in Afghanistan had occurred, and deployed to central Helmand. Since assuming responsibility for the district, the Americans have closed down half of the former British patrol bases in order to free up troops for aggressive foot patrols, a linchpin of US counterinsurgency efforts.
The Taliban have continued to stubbornly contest Sangin, however. Since its arrival in mid-October, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment has engaged in more than 100 firefights, and 13 Marines have been killed in action and 49 wounded, according to The Associated Press. The US military has responded with near-daily raids by special operations forces targeting the Taliban’s top commanders and facilitators in the area.
US commanders consider Sangin to be a vital redoubt for the Taliban, for two main reasons: it is a nexus of opium smuggling and processing infrastructure that funds the insurgents, and it is regarded as the gateway to Kandahar province, often described as ‘the spiritual homeland’ of the Taliban.
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