An al Qaeda facilitator with ties to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was captured during a special operations forces raid in northern Afghanistan yesterday.
The al Qaeda commander, who was not named, was captured “along with two of his associates” during a night raid after he was tracked to a compound in the Nahr-e Shahi District in Balkh province, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.
The al Qaeda commander was linked to bin Laden and was based out of Pakistan, ISAF stated.
“The facilitator was a Pakistan-based attack planner and a close associate of senior al Qaeda insurgents,” ISAF said. “He is a former associate of Osama bin Laden and [it is] suspected he was with bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2001.”
The al Qaeda facilitator is the second senior terrorist captured in Balkh in the past three days. On May 31, a facilitator from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who was behind a deadly attack in Takhar province was captured in Mazar-i-Sharir in Balkh. That attack killed two senior police commanders, two Afghans, and two German soldiers, and wounded the governor and a German general who commanded forces in the north.
Balkh province is a known haven for al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the Afghan north. The presence of terror cells has been detected in the districts of Mazar-i-Sharif, Nahr-e Shahi, and Sholgarah; or three of Balhk’s 14 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The province is an ideal staging and transit point for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Balkh shares a border with Uzbekistan, and is a transit route for NATO supplies that pass through the province from that country.
Recent clashes with al Qaeda fighters in the east and raids against the terror group 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.
ISAF and Afghan forces have had multiple engagements with al Qaeda commanders and fighters since mid-April. 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.
On May 3, Afghan troops killed and wounded more than 25 al Qaeda fighters in the Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan.
And on May 10, ISAF and Afghan forces killed two al Qaeda fighters, one from Saudi Arabia, and one from Morocco, and captured a “Germany-based Moroccan al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator” during a raid in Zabul. Security forces also “found passports and identification cards from France, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia amongst ten insurgents killed during the operation,” ISAF said.
ISAF has also targeted Taliban leaders who organize al Qaeda fighters in Quetta to stage attacks in Afghanistan. One Taliban commander, who operates in Kandahar province, was targeted on May 26. Another Taliban commander commander, who operates in Zabul province, was targeted on May 19, and again on May 29.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.