Afghan forces, families are prime target for Taliban, says commander


Qari Dawat [left, from Channel 4 in 2010; right, from Al Jazeera in 2012]

A Taliban commander in northeastern Afghanistan who has been hunted by US forces for years and has voiced his support for al Qaeda said recently that the Afghan security forces have now become the number target for his forces.

Haji Mohammad Dawran Safi, a commander in the Pech district in the eastern province of Kunar who is also known as Qari Dawat, told Al Jazeera that dismantling and infiltrating the Afghan Army and police is the top “priority” of the Taliban.

“We announced we would forgive them [Afghan forces] many times,” Dawat told the news agency. “We showed them leniency many times in the fight. We tried to make American targets the priority, but the damage created by Afghan forces has become more and more every day. Now they are our priority.”

Starting in late 2009, US forces began pulling back from large areas of Kunar and Nuristan provinces, based on the theory that foreign forces were the primary cause of the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. Security responsibilities have largely been turned over to Afghan forces, who have increasingly come under attack and have lost control of several districts in the two provinces. [See Threat Matrix reports, US begins withdrawing forces from Kunar’s Pech Valley and Al Qaeda never left Kunar, and other problems with US intel, and LWJ report, Governor: Most of Nuristan under Taliban control, for more details.]

In the video, Dawat and his fighters are seen at a Taliban “court” in Pech, where they judged an Afghan policeman. Dawat pardons the policeman instead of killing him, and the policeman is ordered to join the Taliban’s ranks.

Dawat’s followers also distributed leaflets designed to turn Afghans against their government and security forces.

“Those people who accept the infidel’s regime [the Afghan government] and stand with them as friends are themselves infidels,” the pamphlet read.

The Taliban are also working to infiltrate the Afghan Army and police and have threatened the families of members of the security forces.

Dawat has been hunted by the US military for more than three years. In November 2009, the US launched an airstrike in an effort to kill him, and claimed four Taliban fighters were killed in the strike. Dawat “is known for attacking innocent civilians in the Kunar region, as well as international forces and bases,” the US military noted in a press release on Nov. 27, 2009, one day after the strike, without naming him.

Afghan officials confirmed that Dawat was the target, and said he survived the strike. A relative of Dawat said Dawat survived the attack but that his wife, two children, and two neighbors were killed.

Dawat was responsible for the kidnapping of Paul Refsdal, a Norwegian journalist, in November 2009. Refsdal was released just five days after being kidnapped after converting to Islam. [See LWJ report, Taliban commander behind reporter’s kidnapping targeted in Kunar, and Threat Matrix report, Embedded with the Taliban in Kunar, for more information.]

Dawat resurfaced in May 2011 after the death of al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden. He said that he would “avenge” the terrorist leader and “follow in his footsteps.”

“We created special units for avenging the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden,” he told Al Jazeera. “We will avenge him and follow in his footsteps, and we will maintain the momentum of the jihad against foreign and agent forces.”

Dawat highlights the difficulty of hunting for terrorist leaders in Afghanistan’s rugged east, particularly as assets in the area have been reduced, a US military intelligence officer who has been involved in the hunt for commanders in the east told The Long War Journal.

“This guy is among several who have been on our JPEL for years, yet he has eluded us,” the intelligence officer said, referring to Joint Prioritized Effects List, or the kill and capture list for Taliban and terrorist leaders in Afghanistan.

“As we pull back more assets, and as more areas go red,” or under enemy control, “because the Afghan forces can’t hold them, intelligence will only get harder to come by,” the intelligence officer continued. “Add the Pakistan dimension to this and you have a major problem.”

The intelligence official noted that some mid-level al Qaeda leaders, such as Abu Ikhlas al Masri, Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi, and Abu Hafs al Najdi, have been captured or killed in Kunar; others, such as Qari Zia Rahman, have evaded the dragnet for years.

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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  • jean says:

    Is this knuckle head a major player along the lines of an Abu Ikeas or Hajji Matin ? My analysis of information was that he is not a major commander in Pech area. The terrain in the journalist’s video looks like the area east of the Suryac and Korengal.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    We need to keep the Drones in the air and the Tier one units on the ground, so that when the opportunity arises (and it will) we can ace this SOB.

  • Eddie D. says:

    He said, he would follow in OBL’s foot prints……..can you say Splash anyone?

  • Al says:

    It seems to me ANA, Afghan Police, and NATO need to be absolutely ruthless if the good guys are going to win. Allies gave no quarter to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. They were utterly destroyed as a nation and ideology.
    It appears Allies no longer have the ability to do this, or perhaps the political will. Waterboarding is mild compared to what NATO need to do.
    Or, perhaps all of this is impossible, as at least Germans and Japanese populations were civilized peoples. Unlike the more primitive Afghans

  • mike merlo says:

    Designate ‘red’ zones ‘free fire areas,’ problem solved

  • gerald says:

    Afghanistan is South Vietnam revisited.

  • LAL1859 says:

    Interesting. In 2008-2009 observed that insurgents in RC (East) (likely HiG or Haqqani) used attacks on Afghan forces as a way to try out new tactics before using them to attack NATO/ISAF forces.
    For example, the 20 May 2009 CWIED attack that killed two US personnel enroute to Bagram used a wire described by an Afghan partner who was with the convoy as “very thin, like in a washing machine motor.” Our Afghan colleagues shared that two weeks before this attack, the same type of wire was used in an IED that killed several Afghans in the Salang Pass, not far from where our Soldiers were killed.
    Our guess was that the media-savvy insurgents knew an attack on Americans would get more attention in the media. According to colleagues they worked very hard and were thorough in their preparation to ensure successful attacks where they believed the media would be involved.
    This report – if true – suggests a change in targeting priorities and growing confidence in their capabilities.


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