Raid in Afghan east targets Hizb-i Islami Khalis leader

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Map of Afghanistan’s provinces. Click map to view larger image.

Coalition and Afghan special operations forces killed two suspected insurgents during a raid targeting a commander of an al Qaeda-linked group in the Afghan east that has directly supported Osama bin Laden in the past.

The combined special operations team targeted a commander of the Hizb-i Islami Khalis (HIK) during a raid in the district of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province yesterday. The name of the commander was not disclosed by the International Security Assistance Force.

“The HIK leader is affiliated with al Qaeda, and facilitates improvised explosive device, and suicide bomber attacks,” ISAF stated in a press release. “He has recently met with other Taliban leaders to plan attacks on Afghan and coalition forces and is actively engaging in intimidation attacks against local citizens.”

During the operation, security forces killed two “local national male[s],” both whom brandished weapons at Coalition forces.

Prior to today, ISAF has not mentioned the Hizb-i Islami Khalis by name in its press releases. ISAF has, however, stepped up raids on the Hizb-i Islami Gulbuddin, an associated group, in Nangarhar and Khost provinces over the past month after the capture of a HIG media emir known as Farid [see LWJ report, HIG media emir’s capture leads to capture of 5 other commanders; and Threat Matrix report, ISAF, Afghan forces capture another HIG commander in Khost].

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Maulvi Mohammed Yunis Khalis, the founder of the Hizb-i Islami Khalis.

The Hizb-i Islami Khalis was founded in 1979 by Maulvi Mohammed Yunis Khalis, who broke with Hizb-i Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to form his own party. Based in the vital eastern province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan, HIK was one of the seven major mujahedeen groups that battled the Soviets during the 1980s and were collectively known as the Peshawar Seven. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, which is also closely tied to al Qaeda, was one of Khalis’ top three commanders.

After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Khalis cooperated with the interim government, but then quietly supported the Taliban takeover of the country. Khalis was instrumental in welcoming leader Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan after al Qaeda was ejected from Sudan in 1996. The US government said that Khalis helped Osama bin Laden escape from al Qaeda’s stronghold in the Tora Bora mountains during the US operation there in 2001.

Khalis died on July 19, 2006, according to his son, Anwarul Haq Mujahid.

Mujahid took control of the HIK after his father’s death and created a military group known as the Tora Bora Military Front, which operates in Nangarhar and has been behind a series of deadly attacks in the province. Pakistan detained Mujahid in Peshawar in June 2009. Prior to his detention, Muhajid served as the Taliban’s shadow governor of Nangarhar.

Mujahid is now out of Pakistani custody. On Feb. 8, Mujahid spoke at the funeral of Awal Gul, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was captured by US forces in 2002 and died at the facility of natural causes on Feb. 1 of this year.

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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