Senior Taliban military commander killed in Helmand

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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10 Comments

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Looks like a good get. The Brits did a lot of brave, tough work in Sangin during their time there. It’s good that we got this ghoul.

  • evenhead says:

    It’s gratifying to see that we managed to get a good hit on the taleban. Now I know that another leader will probably step in almost immediately but whenever I see a article like this it makes me think of a quote I heard (can’t remember where I heard it from though) “Cut off the head enough times and the brains bound to get mushy”. Basically training to be a good leader takes time, effort and money, regardless of how devoted you are to your cause. If we keep killing their mid to high level leaders often enough all they’re going to be left with are incompetent or inexperienced leaders who would be too scared to take a step outside their doors for fear of getting hit by a hellfire missile.

  • gerald says:

    From Fallujah to al Anbar and now Sangin the Corps is definitely earning its in the Global War on Terror. Semper fi

  • kp says:

    An interesting insight on the Taliban’s military organization structure

    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,”

    They seem to have a very flat organizational structure with 25-30 “platoon leaders” all reporting to a “battalion commander”. Then the “battalion commander” talks directly with “senior leadership” (rather like “staff officers”?).

    That’s got to make life awkward for the commander with a lot of people to communicate with (and more chances of a reveal). Big meetings? Frequent meetings? More hittable meetings?

    Do they not like to delegate or do they like shura like meetings with lots of people interacting with the boss (this seems to be a local pattern)? No “company leaders” which would cut his reports down to a much more manageable 8 or so. Or do they have defacto company leaders”

    The big meetings would be a vulnerability. I wonder how many “down level” reports were taken out in this strike?

  • InTheDetails says:

    Good news here, and a good report. I’m concerned, however, that so much of the Sangin discussion mentions the British and then the 3/5, as if 3/5 were the first U.S. Marine unit to set foot in Sangin. Which of course is not the case. What of 3/7, the unit 3/5 relieved only a month ago? A fuller context would give readers a much fuller understanding of what’s happening in Sangin.

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    more and more this kind of news is being reported, can their intel be that good? KP also makes a point about how their supposed command structure is set up. no way do i see a top level commander seeing 20 different people..but its the time span that mattters. Every month? 2? Its possible but risky.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Here’s an interesting take on the U.S. Marine approach vis a vis the Brits from then-Commandant Conway (//www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4676) :
    Q General, the — your Marines took over from the Royal Marines in Sangin in July. And since then, they

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    i think the Corps has a much more kinetic approach to dealing w/the enemy. Wat happens when they cross into Baluchistan? Thats a no go area for us. Now they are talking about 2014? If the ANA don’t get it together soon, the mission will fail.

  • Eddie says:

    I appreciate when detailed information about a Taliban leader is shared with the readers. When I see that this commander was in charge of hundreds of fighters, it helps me understand his importance. Knowing that he was in contact with one of the Regional Shuras and that he was an expert bomb maker are tangible reasons why he may not be easily replaced. To piggy-back on what evenhead said, every HVT removed from the battlefield means progress on the military front if it is kept up.

  • john says:

    Am I correct in that in the last month the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines has taken 15 killed and 50 wounded in the last month? Which is 7% of the units total strength? For how long can that rate be sustained?

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