Coalition and Afghan forces again targeted commanders of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in an area in northern Afghanistan recently identified as a terrorist “safe haven.”
The combined special operations team launched a nighttime raid against a compound in the district of Burkah in Baghlan province in an effort to capture four “key” Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commanders, “including the most senior IMU leader and Taliban liaison,” the International Security Assistance Force said in a press release. The senior IMU leader “is responsible for multiple mortar attacks, suicide bombing operations and is assessed to be directly involved with IMU leaders in the region.”
The raid sparked a battle between the special operations forces and IMU and Taliban fighters. The Taliban and IMU attacked the ISAF force with rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire as it attempted to move to the compound, and then attempted to surround the ISAF force and “attacked from multiple directions” with machine guns and RPGs. The special operations team called for close air support and defeated the attack.
The International Security Assistance Force said that more than 10 enemy fighters were killed and another was captured. An Afghan official and a Taliban spokesman claimed that seven fighters were killed during the raid.
Last night’s raid in Burkah is the fourth by ISAF and Afghan special operations teams that targeted IMU leaders in the troubled district since March 8. In that raid, ISAF targeted a Taliban commander who leads “approximately 80 foreign fighters of Uzbek, Chechen and Tajik descent.”
ISAF identified Burkah as a “Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan safe haven” in a press release announcing the March 14 nighttime raid that targeted Taliban and IMU fighters.
In the past month, ISAF has also launched raids against the IMU and the Taliban in the northern provinces of Samangan and Balkh. An ISAF airstrike in a remote region of Samangan on March 10 killed Bilal Konduzi and Shad Mohammad, two senior IMU commanders. Also, an IMU military commander was captured during a March 10 raid in Balkh province.
Background on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the region
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban maintain a strong presence in the northern Afghan provinces of Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar, and have branched out into the provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, and Sar-i-Pul. The two allied terror groups have been establishing strongholds in the Afghan north, and are known to operate training camps in Kunduz and suicide camps in Sar-i-Pul. In addition, top leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have integrated into the Taliban’s shadow government in the north.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s leadership cadre is based in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, and operates primarily 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 50 strikes Predator strikes in the area. Many of the strikes targeted cells run by the Islamic Jihad Group, an IMU offshoot, which were plotting to conduct Mumbai-styled terror assaults in Europe. A Sept. 8 strike killed an IJG commander known as Qureshi, who specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.
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 for top Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. The IMU fights alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well.
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