Yesterday Coalition and Afghan special operations forces targeted a Taliban commander who leads al Qaeda fighters in the southeastern province of Zabul.
“The leader directs a group of fighters augmented by al Qaeda associated foreign fighters assembled in Quetta, Pakistan,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release on the raid.
The raid took place on May 19 in the district of Qalat. “The force questioned residents and detained several suspected insurgents for further questioning,” ISAF stated. “The security force also confiscated multiple AK-47 assault rifles and chest racks during the operation.”
Yesterday’s raid in Qalat is the second time in 11 days that Coalition and Afghan forces have come into contact with al Qaeda fighters in the district. On May 9, US and Afghan troops killed 10 terrorists, including foreigners, during a major firefight that took place while targeting a Taliban facilitator in Qalat.
In its initial report on the May 9 raid, ISAF said that a Saudi and a Moroccan were killed during the fighting and their passports were recovered. A US intelligence official later told The Long War Journal that Saudis, Turks, Moroccans, and Pakistanis were involved in the fighting. Afghan defense officials said that one Frenchman and one Moroccan were captured and five terrorists, including two Pakistanis, were killed.
“The presence of Arabs and foreigners on any target is a pretty good signal of the hand of al Qaeda,” an intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
The Pakistani city of Quetta, where the al Qaeda fighters operating in Zabul were organized, is a bastion for the Afghan Taliban and numerous Pakistani terror groups linked to al Qaeda, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The Afghan Taliban’s leadership council, which is known as the Quetta Shura, is based in the provincial capital. Mullah Omar and other top Taliban commanders are known to shelter in Quetta, with the aid and support of Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Zabul a known transit point and staging ground for al Qaeda
Zabul province is a known haven for al Qaeda in the Afghan southeast. Al Qaeda’s presence in Zabul has been detected in the districts of Shah Joy, Shamulzai, and Qalat; or three of Zabul’s 11 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The province is an ideal staging and transit point for al Qaeda and allied groups operating from Pakistan. Zabul shares a border with Pakistan, and also borders the Afghan provinces of Uruzgan, Kandahar, Ghazni, and Paktika.
Coalition and Afghan forces have targeted several al Qaeda cells in Zabul since October 2008. In July 2010, security forces killed Malauwi Shahbuddin, a Taliban commander and “foreign-fighter facilitator,” during a raid in Shah Joy. In October 2010, Mullah Abdullah Kakar, another Taliban commander and “foreign-fighter facilitator,” was killed in an airstrike, also in Shah Joy. ISAF uses the term “foreign fighters” to describe members of al Qaeda and allied terror groups operating in Afghanistan.
Recent clashes with al Qaeda fighters in the east contradict claims that al Qaeda has only 50 to 100 operatives in Afghanistan. These claims have been made by top US intelligence and military leaders, including most recently by General David Petraeus, the commander of ISAF.
On May 3, Afghan troops killed and wounded more than 25 al Qaeda fighters in the Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan. On April 14, an ISAF airstrike in Kunar killed several al Qaeda leaders and fighters, including Waqas, a Pakistani commander, and Abu Hafs al Najdi, a Saudi emir.
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