During a recent raid in eastern Afghanistan, Coalition and Afghan special operations forces captured a Taliban commander who commanded members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Islam. The Taliban commander was captured the same day that the CIA carried out three unmanned Predator strikes in known Lashkar-e-Islam strongholds across the border in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal agency.
The Taliban commander, who was not named, was captured yesterday in the Behsud district of Nangarhar province. ISAF does not release the names of captured Taliban commanders or fighters. Two Taliban fighters were also killed during the raid.
The Taliban commander led forces in the district of Khogyani, a known terrorist haven. He “led Taliban attacks on district centers, Afghan national security forces check points and coalition force bases” and commanded “a joint Taliban and Lashkar-e Islam group to assassinate or kidnap the Shinwari Rhimdad Khel sub-tribe leader in Achin district in the province,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. In January 2010, the Shinwari tribe vowed to battle the Taliban and provide recruits to the Army and police forces if attacked.
The Lashkar-e-Islam is a Taliban-like group run by Mangal Bagh [for more information, see LWJ report, A profile of Mangal Bagh]. Based in Khyber, the Lashkar-e-Islam has established its own Taliban-like government in large areas of the tribal agency, including in Bara, Jamrud, and the Tirah Valley. The group provides recruits to battle US and Afghan forces across the border, and attacks NATO’s vital supply line moving through Khyber. The Pakistani military has targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam during five operations over the past two years, but has failed to dislodge the group from power.
ISAF confirmed that the Lashkar-e-Islam mentioned in the release is the same group that operates from Khyber.
“The Lashkar-e-Islam is the same group that is based in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal agency and is led by Mangal Bagh,” ISAF public affairs desk told The Long War Journal. “Lashkar-e-Islam fights for control in their areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), and assist the Afghan insurgency by providing facilitation support and a limited number of fighters.”
ISAF’s mention of the Lashkar-e-Islam today is the first recorded instance in the military’s press releases.
The announcement that ISAF captured the Lashkar-e-Islam-linked Taliban commander took place the day after CIA-run Predator and Reaper strike aircraft pounded Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam safe houses in Khyber.
The US carried out three strikes yesterday in Khyber, and a previous strike on Dec. 16. In the course of the four strikes, 61 Lashkar-e-Islam and Taliban fighters were killed, including a Lashkar-e-Islam commander known as Ali Marjan.
On May 15, 2010, the US carried out its first recorded airstrike in Khyber, killing 15 jihadists. Of the 210 Predator strikes carried out by the US since 2004, only five have hit targets inside the Khyber agency.
All of the strikes in Khyber have taken place in the Tirah Valley, a known haven for the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Islam, al Qaeda, and other Pakistani terror groups. These safe havens enable these terror groups to launch attacks inside Pakistan as well across the border in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan.
ISAF has also carried out a cross-border strike in Khyber. In November 2008, the US military attacked Taliban forces in the Tirah Valley after they retreated across the border from Nangarhar in Afghanistan. US strike aircraft and artillery killed seven Taliban fighters during the hot pursuit.
The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; an estimated 70 percent of NATO’s supplies move through this strategic crossing point, pass through Nangarhar, and then reach the final destination in Kabul. Between September 2007 and April 2008, the Khyber Pass was shut down seven times due to Taliban attacks.
In later September 20101, the Pakistani government also shut down the Khyber Pass for 10 days to protest US cross-border raids against Taliban and Haqqani Network forces in Kurram and North Waziristan. During that time, ISAF convoys were savaged in Taliban attacks throughout Pakistan; almost 200 fuel trucks and supply vehicles and trailers were torched.
Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, another Pakistan-based terror group, maintain a strong presence in Nangarhar, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The presence of al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba cells has been detected in the districts of Achin, Bati Kowt, Behsud, Chaparhar, Dara Noor, Deh Bala, Jalalabad, Khogyani, Sherzad, Shinwar, or 10 of Nangarhar’s 22 districts.
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