Coalition and Afghan special operations teams captured five suspected al Qaeda-linked fighters during a June 23 raid in the southeastern province of Ghazni.
The combined special operations team captured the five operatives during a raid that targeted a “senior al Qaeda facilitator” who operates from Pakistan and supports attacks in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.
“The facilitator, who typically operates in Pakistan, helps plan terrorist operations and moves fighters, money and materials into Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the ISAF press release said.
The nighttime raid took place in the Gelan district, a known al Qaeda haven. No Coalition or Afghan forces were killed or wounded during the raid.
ISAF and Afghan forces have had multiple engagements with al Qaeda commanders and fighters since mid-April, resulting in the death and capture of dozens of operatives. On June 1, special operations forces captured an al Qaeda commander who was linked to Osama bin Laden and was based out of Pakistan. During a raid in Zabul on May 8, ISAF and Afghan forces killed 10 al Qaeda fighters, including one from Saudi Arabia and one from Morocco, and captured a “Germany-based Moroccan al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator.” Security forces also “found passports and identification cards from France, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia amongst ten insurgents killed during the operation.” On May 3, Afghan troops killed and wounded more than 25 al Qaeda fighters in the Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan. And 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 wanted Saudi emir.
ISAF and Afghan special operations recently targeted the Haqqani Network and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during a pair of raids in Ghazni. Both groups are closely allied to al Qaeda. On April 16, a combined special operations force captured two Haqqani Network commanders during a raid in Ghazni City, the provincial capital. According to the ISAF press release, one of the facilitators “worked for both Haqqani and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leaders” in the Orgun district in Paktika province, and aided “Uzbek foreign fighters to support Haqqani attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The Uzbek fighters are from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or its offshoot, the Islamic Jihad Group.
The other Haqqani Network facilitator “provided safe havens for foreign fighters traveling from Kunduz to Paktika province and Pakistan for tactical training and operations.” ISAF uses the term “foreign fighters” to describe members of al Qaeda and allied terror groups.
Background on al Qaeda and allied groups in Ghazni
A senior US intelligence official involved in the hunt for al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Afghanistan told The Long War Journal that Ghazni is a key hub for al Qaeda activity in the southeast.
“Ghazni has long been a collection and distribution point for foreign jihadists due to its geographic proximity to key points,” the official said in April 2011. “In general terms, what we’re seeing is facilitators bringing in fresh souls for jihad. They get them to places like Ghazni and await coordination to get them on to field commanders.”
The official noted that the Ring Road, the main artery that runs through Afghanistan and serves as a primary supply route for ISAF and Afghan forces, is a primary target of attacks.
Al Qaeda and allied terror groups maintain a strong presence in Ghazni province. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Andar, Gelan, Ghazni, Shah Joy, and Waghaz, or four of the province’s 16 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
US forces are known to have captured two al Qaeda operatives in Ghazni since 2008. The most prominent al Qaeda operative captured in Ghazni is Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated Pakistani scientist who has been dubbed “Lady al Qaeda” by the press. Aafia was detained in Ghazni City on July 17, 2008, and attempted to kill US US military officers and FBI agents during her interrogation the next day. According to US prosecutors, Aafia had “various documents, various chemicals, and a computer thumb drive, among other things” in her possession when she was arrested. Handwritten notes she was carrying referred to a “mass casualty attack” and listed “various locations in the United States, including Plum Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge.” She is currently serving an 86-year-long prison sentence for attempting to kill US officials.
Another al Qaeda operative was captured in Ghazni City during a special operations raid on Nov. 18, 2009. An unnamed “al Qaeda IED facilitator” who served in al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, or Lashkar al Zil, was among several terrorists detained during the raid.
The Andar district in Ghazni is a known Taliban and al Qaeda hub in the southeast. Since October 2008, the US military has conducted seven raids against al Qaeda cells in Andar, according to press reports compiled by The Long War Journal. Senior Taliban and al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitators are known to operate in the district.
A US military commander operating in the southeastern Afghan province of Ghazni said that “foreign trainers” are working with the Taliban in the district of Andar, while Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate is seen as sabotaging efforts in the province.
“We also have seen some indications that there have been foreign trainers that have come to train the local Taliban who are fighting here in Andar,” Lieutenant Colonel David Fivecoat, commander of 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, told TOLOnews in January. The report stated that the “foreign trainers” are “Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis.”
Andar is the second district in Ghazni to have been identified by the US military as a location where Pakistani, Chechen, and Arab fighters are operating. In July 2010, the International Security Assistance Force targeted a Taliban commander “who is responsible for smuggling Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters and improvised explosive device materials into Shah Joy District from Pakistan.”
Al Qaeda claims it carries out operations in Ghazni
Al Qaeda and the Movement of the Taliban, an al Qaeda ally across the border, have also identified Ghazni as a province where the terror groups carry out operations. In February 2009, al Qaeda released the 13th edition of Vanguards of Khorasan, a magazine produced by al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In that magazine, the terror group published “Field Reports” that included information on attacks in Ghazni, as well as in the provinces of Baghlan, Badkhashan, Farah, Jawzjan, Kabul, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Nimroz, Paktika, Wardak, and Zabul.
And in an interview with As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released in January 2010, Waliur Rahman Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the tribal agency of South Waziristan, said his fighters are conducting attacks in Ghazni and other Afghan provinces.
“Praise be to God, our comrades, whether they were suicide bombers or other fighters, have been fighting on various fronts in Afghanistan: Helmand, Zabul, Kandahar, Ghazni, Khost, all districts of Khost, Paktia and Paktika,” he told As Sahab.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.