Al Qaeda’s commander for Kunar, several operatives killed in airstrike

A video from the Sa’ad bin Abi Waqas Group, released in early 2010 by the Ansar al Mujahideen Forum.

The International Security Assistance Force has confirmed today that al Qaeda’s commander in the contested northeastern province of Kunar was killed during an airstrike earlier this week.

Waqas, an al Qaeda commander from Pakistan, was killed along with an identified number of al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in an airstrike on April 14 in the Dangam district in Kunar.

ISAF has not provided the names and nationalities of the other al Qaeda operatives thought to have been killed in the airstrike, despite multiple inquires by The Long War Journal.

Waqas’ full name is Sa’ad bin Abi Waqas. His fighters, who are members of the Sa’ad bin Abi Waqas Group, are featured in a video released in early 2010 that shows them inventorying equipment provided by donors. The fighters display radios, binoculars, backpacks, uniforms, and other gear donated to the group. Enough equipment was donated to outfit about a platoon of al Qaeda fighters (20-40 men).

Waqas “coordinated attacks against coalition forces,” ISAF stated in a press release today announcing his death. “He was associated with another Pakistan-based senior al Qaeda leader and together they conducted training for members throughout the province, as well as weapons procurement.”

Waqas took control of al Qaeda’s operations in Kunar after the previous leader, Abu Ikhlas al Masri, was captured by ISAF and Afghan commandos in December 2010. [For more information, see LWJ report, ISAF captures al Qaeda’s top Kunar commander.]

ISAF has also been actively hunting Waqas’ commander, Qari Zia Rahman, since last summer. Rahman has been described as a “dual hatted al Qaeda and Taliban commander,” and leads forces in Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan, as well as across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand.

Kunar province is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Dangam, Asmar, Asadabad, Shigal, and Marawana; or eight of Kunar’s 15 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

Despite the known presence of al Qaeda camps in the provinces, US troops have abandoned several combat outposts in Kunar and the neighboring province of Nuristan after major attacks on remote bases. US Army commanders said that the outposts were closed or turned over to Afghan forces as part of a new counterinsurgency strategy to secure population centers.

But as the US military began drawing down its forces in Kunar and Nuristan in late 2009, it acknowledged that al Qaeda camps were in operation in Kunar. ISAF targeted three al Qaeda camps in Kunar between October 2009 and October 2010.

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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  • Soccer says:

    Oh WOW Bill. In your opinion, is this a blow to Al Qaeda in Kunar, in Afghanistan, and in the region?
    I hope it is.

  • Goatweed says:

    Shouldn’t we avoid killing Pakistani nationals in Afghanistan? I don’t think their foreign minister will be happy. What if they were good Taliban? (where do I put my internet icon)

  • jayc says:

    Was he riding an exercise bike, bicycling to the “gates of America” when he was hit? Sorry Bill,
    I couldn’t resist.

  • Arghandab Fighter says:

    Good story Bill, if you get any news about fights in the Arghandab please tweet it, I’m gonna be joining my boys there soon.

  • jean says:

    That just up the road from where Malik Zarin was killed, wonder if his family provided intel for that airstrike.

  • SoninKunar says:

    Glad to hear this. Would love to see more strikes like this one.

  • Gerry says:

    With all due respect, it looked like he had his ‘Dancing Boy’ along with him for the interview.

  • Johno says:

    @Gerry I noticed that as well. The ‘Dancing Boy’ relationship would get you 20 years in a Western court and a dead sentence in an Islamic court. As you progress up the Wahabi chain of command you are permitted more of these children in your entourage. The fact that they flaunt them like badges of rank gives you an insight into the AQ mindset.

  • Soccer says:

    In your list where you detail the senior AQ/TALIBAN leaders killed by drone strikes, you missed one man.
    Look him up, he is known as Mullah Shamshullah, a very senior Taliban and Haqqani figure in North Waziristan. Please add him to the list.

  • Sharpshot says:

    If you are referring to “Lover boys” as they are sometimes called, or locally, bacha baz, it rampant throughout the Pashtun culture. It is a sad, but definitely not isolated with AQ.
    Like we may buy a nice car, they flaunt a 10 year old boy, and they see absolutely nothing wrong with that.


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