ISAF kills al Qaeda’s 2nd in command for Afghanistan

Al Qaeda’s second in command for Afghanistan was killed in Sunday’s airstrike in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar, the Coalition reported.

Sakhr al Taifi, a Saudi al Qaeda leader who was also known as Musthaq and Nasim, and another unnamed al Qaeda fighter were killed in the May 28 airstrike in the Watahpur district Kunar, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. ISAF had initially said yesterday that it targeted an al Qaeda leader and killed two “insurgents” in the strike. Another al Qaeda leader was also targeted the same day in the Dangam district, but it is not known if he was killed in the airstrike.

Al Taifi was the terror group’s “second highest leader in Afghanistan, responsible for commanding foreign insurgents, in addition to directing attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces,” ISAF said.

He “traveled between Afghanistan and Pakistan, carrying out commands from senior al-Qaeda leadership,” ISAF continued. Additionally, al Taifi provided weapons and equipment to “insurgents” based in eastern Afghanistan, and moved “insurgent fighters into Afghanistan.”

Al Qaeda operatives and leaders often serve as embedded military trainers for Taliban field units and impart tactics and bomb-making skills to these forces. In addition, al Qaeda frequently supports the Taliban by funding operations and providing weapons and other aid. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’ for more information on al Qaeda’s role in Afghanistan.]

For years, the rugged, remote Afghan province of Kunar has served as a sanctuary for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Asmar, Asadabad, Dangam, Marawana, Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Shigal, and Watahpur; or nine of Kunar’s 15 districts, according to press releases issued by the International Security Assistance Force that have been compiled by The Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda remains entrenched in Afghanistan and Pakistan despite the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. A document seized at bin Laden’s compound suggested that the actual number of al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan is much higher than the official estimates provided by the Obama administration over the past three years, which have remained static at 300-400 members in Pakistan and 50-100 in Afghanistan. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan, and Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan.]

Al Qaeda is known to run training camps and have established bases in Kunar, and uses the province to direct operations in the Afghan east. ISAF has targeted several bases and camps in Kunar over the years [see LWJ report, ISAF captures al Qaeda’s top Kunar commander, for more details].

Saudis are known to have held senior al Qaeda leadership positions in Kunar province. ISAF has killed three other Saudi leaders in Kunar since the summer of 2010. In April 2011, ISAF killed Abu Hafs al Najdi, al Qaeda’s operations chief for Kunar who was wanted by the Saudi government. And in September 2010, ISAF killed Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi and Sa’ad Mohammad al Shahri. Al Qurayshi was a senior al Qaeda commander who coordinated the attacks of a group of Arab fighters in Kunar and Nuristan provinces and also maintained extensive contacts with al Qaeda facilitators throughout the Middle East. Al Shahri was a longtime jihadist and the son of a retired Saudi colonel.

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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  • ArneFufkin says:

    Good work troops.

  • david says:

    Bill, The NYT is saying that this guy has never been known to US intelligence before, is that true? Have you ever heard of this guy before?

  • Ghost Soldier says:

    Watahpur is a melting pot of insurgency and international terrorist havens. While they have nominal cooperation among their leaders, the rank and file have been fighting each other in the past year. The efforts to target leaders like al Taifi are the most important aspect of destroying any semblance of cooperation among the groups. That is, when you remove the linchpins of cooperation, those leaders that can straddle several groups via personal relationships, marriages, etc, you not only cut the lines of coordination but also create chaos in the ranks as local insurgency commanders look to fill the power vacuum and the void left by the leader now dead.
    Kunar and Nuristan, along with Yemen, will be the most important piece of ground in the war on terror as the military removes its large footprint in the provinces over the next 1-2 years.

  • Paul D says:

    I thought Pakistan and Saudi were our allies LOL

  • Eddie D. says:

    Good shot! Sounds like we need to just take Kunar off the map.

  • mike merlo says:

    It should be noted that the same criteria used to explain & define advantages terrain affords insurgents is just as easily exploited by a counter insurgency. Kunar,Loghman & Nuristan form a ‘composite’ whole(with an eye to all points north of the Kabul river in Nangarhar) allowing for a segregated strategy independent from other theaters of interest in Afghanistan.
    A more than cursory look at a topographical map of the ‘composite’ reveals that where the Kunar river passes from Pakistan to Afghanistan is the most likely area of transit for the bulk of the material reaching the insurgents in the ‘composite’ from Pakistan.
    Hopefully the military planners are paying just as interest, if not more, in the material needs of the insurgent as they in the insurgent himself.

  • Ghost Soldier says:

    COIN does not work in Kunar and Nuristan. Period. 6 years worth of US Army and Marine Corps efforts push this conclusion.
    Kunar and Nuristan are better seen almost as their own entity, certainly separate from Nangahar and probably from Laghman as well.
    In fact, Wama eastward in Nuristan and Chapa Dara eastward in Kunar are more appropriately approached as its own country. The language in Nuristan is as distinct from those that surround it as any place in the world. In the coming years, it’s likely that Afghanistan will carve out its own ‘FATA’. Further down the line, decades on, it is possible that the FATA of Pakistan and the areas of Kunar and Nuristan in Afghanistan find common bloodlines a good foundation for common cause against Islamabad and Kabul. In this, stability is relegated to the responsibility of warlords like Haji Jan Daad, Haji Matin, and Qari Zia Ur-Rahman in Kunar and those in Nuristan such as Dost Mohammad.
    The terrain and routes in Kunar and Nuristan are prime territory for the counter-terrorism strategy now apparently primed for post-occupation in the two provinces. It will be an interesting decade for Al-Qaeda in Yemen and the Hindu-Kush.

  • Knighthawk says:

    Good, one less scumbag.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    BOOYAH…we are getting close and close to Zawahiri every day. That birth mark on his forehead might as well be a target for a drone or a Tier 1 unit:)

  • mike merlo says:

    @Ghost Soldier
    No doubt you could make a compelling argument backing your position. And I’m sure given the sufficient time to make your case you could convince me. That’s one of the complexities when discussing & seeking a position that satisfy’s one view. COIN warfare by it’s very nature is sloppy & rarely lends itself to a set time table. CT being target specific with little or no concern to holding ground or population ‘centric.’
    I am very much familiar with the area I have framed as a ‘composite’ including what you have contributed. While I have the utmost respect for the facts that you’d bring to bear in support of your position; I have no doubt that if the US military & their Afghan counterparts saw fit to wrest control of the area we’re talking about it would be done.
    The fact that you championed CT as opposed to COIN illustrates that our 2 positions are not as divergent as one might hazard. In fact one could easily point out that I mistakenly categorized my supposition as COIN. But it should also be noted that CT has been applied in the AfPak theater as of late(J Biden?) to satisfy a political ‘bent.’ With focus on border interdiction & extending the kill zone into the insurgents sanctuary of Pakistan.
    For CT to be successful in the ‘composite’ it’ll be necessary for the US & their Afghan counterparts to physically push into this ‘kill box’ & establish static presence. Much in the same way they’ve conducted themselves in respect to the Waziristans & Kurram.
    To satisfy those CT objectives FOB’s have been positioned as close & conveniently as possible to the AfPak border.
    That being said each & every FOB focusing on CT objectives has by default had to make accommodations for COIN. It should also be noted that the insurgence presence in the ‘composite’ is an area that they murdered & terrorized their way to dominance.

  • Star Fleet Operations says:

    A few B-52 or B-1 cells flying parallel paths while dropping their ordinance should help immensely.
    If Pakistan complains fly a few cells over Islamabad as a gesture of “good will”.

  • Panjshir says:

    If Al-Qaeda’s no. 2 has been killed, I’m really glad to hear it. However, I have never heard this name before, and a google search of same shows only articles from the last 12 hours, post-mortem, casting a shadow of doubt on this announcement. NY Times agrees that he has not previously existed.
    The authors of the articles on this site tend to have excellent sourcing, so I would love to hear more from them about the reliability of this ISAF report and the quality of the intelligence that should make this 100% trustworthy (besides “NATO/ISAF/DOD/CIA says so.”)

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Panjshir, He was al Qaeda’s #2 for Afghanistan (and not #2 for al Qaeda overall – by all accounts that is Abu Yahya al Libi). I am told from good sources this is indeed valid.
    It isn’t uncommon for us not to know the names of senior AQ leaders until they are killed or captured. See the long list of ops chiefs killed over the last decade in the region… Al Qaeda doesn’t publish an organizational chart, and US/Western intel holds the info close.

  • Ghost Soldier says:

    You certainly are not alone in your opinion that, when applied correctly, COIN could be an indispensable component of an overall strategy that incorporates counter-terrorism and a more elaborate effort not so clearly defined as pure ‘COIN’ or ‘CT’ as those in policy-making come to understand the terms.
    However, my original point revolved around the idea that the culture in Kunar and Nuristan is so particularly difficult that efforts to control areas larger than villages. The infiltration routes do not lend themselves to easy access and the outposts we once established inside those valleys are, even just a few years since, those that were prehistoric- a bygone era. As you know the area very well, you know the defining characteristic is its capillary valleys… notably Waygal, Watahpur, Korengal, Shuryak, Helgal, Sholton, Ghaki, Ganjgal, Nawa, Gorapray, Badel, Dewagal, Mazaar, Shaunkrai, and Shalay. These valleys often had outposts in places like Aranas, Seray, an attempt in Wanat, Kamdesh, Barg-e Matal, and Badel. They are simply unsustainable areas for US presence. For proper COIN to work, for its application to be successful per most doctrine, presence of troops has to exceed specific numbers in areas of vital transportation and residency. In Kunar and Nuristan, it is particularly difficult to manage COIN doctrine’s application because US elements cannot sustain presence in vital areas of interest.
    Aside from that, the political will and popular support dramatically waned after casualties mounted in places like Aranas, Bella, Barg-e Matal (2009), Kamdesh, and of course, the Korengal.

  • Stu says:

    Congratulations to the commanders and intelligence folks who sent this murderer to Islamic heaven!
    Nevertheless, what suckers we are to truck with the Paks! After unmasking Pak protection of bin Laden a year ago, why is anyone even speculating about AZ and MO whereabouts? I’m betting ISI protects them well, surrounded by literal and virual rings of security.
    If any senior member of our military command reads these words, just understand that many of us here in middle America can see the obvious. Helping the Paks is like feeding the snake that will bite us again.

  • JT says:

    Devin –
    One thing about the fundamentalist terrorists is their firmly held (wild) beliefs. I have read that the mark on Zawahiri’s head is not a birthmark but a badge of honor in his community of extremists for his routine praying on prayer mats.
    This does not, however, change anything about the fact that he believes in killing any/all non-muslims in order to bring about a worldwide Islamic theocracy. More should know this simple fact about the enemy of civilized nations.

  • blert says:

    As an historical aside:
    Both Britain and America overrated von Rundstedt during 1944. It was true that he was nominally in command of German Forces in Northwest Europe, France, in particular; however, after the war they found out that the flow of control bypassed him.
    He later quipped that he couldn’t move his sentries without Berlin’s permission.
    What was true then is compounded immensely with tribally based ‘armies.’ You can bet that this or that fellow is nominally ‘in charge’ when, in fact, the flow of command bypasses him. He’s been ‘stood up’ as a figurehead to gain clan loyalty.
    This explains why entire elements can suddenly fall out of favor — with ‘wet work’ to follow. This appears to be the case with the negotiating crew on their way to the Gulf.
    Because of that, I tend to discount the absolute ranking of any given power player. Whatever ‘pull’ they have is going to be restricted to their own crew/ clan/ tribe.
    However, there are some exceptional players able to knit across tribal lines. Picking these fellows off has completely out-sized impacts.
    We can only hope that the above mentioned unlawful combatant was of such talent.
    It’s a Thought Crime to say it, but most of the Taliban are idiots by Western standards. They have very narrow schooling: fighting, tricking and lying.
    Worse, the entire area has been a war zone for two generations. This means that prenatal nutrition is often terrible — and that cousin marriage is the norm. Both combine to drop IQs, on average, twenty points, at the least.
    Which means that the number of fellows with real smarts is strikingly few. So their deaths hurt the opposing force far, far more than you might think. They just don’t have that deep a bench.
    To counter this, AQ recruits far and wide — out of the AfPak Theater. These fellows, then, represent an outsized threat to our campaign. Like mythic dragons teeth, they sprout up brigades of dupes.
    I suspect that is why the CIA is concentrating their fire on ex-Westerners.
    Again: we need to stop immigration from the Middle East. It’s just too dangerous — for us and for them.
    As Detroit shows, they can’t Americanize. Their culture is just too alien and alienating. ( It’s against islamic teaching to mellow out and accept non-muslims as true friends. And that’s a tragedy. )

  • Devin Leonard says:

    As someone who has participated in CT actions and Counter insurgency, first as a Force Recon Marine in Iraq, and then as a member of the Marines Special Operations Regiment (1st Batallion) in Afghanistan staring in 07. I feel I have a knowledge of both types of warfare. This type of warefare can be succseesful in Afghanistan if given the funding and the right amount of both regular and Spec Ops troops to strike double blows against the Taliban. However we would HAVE to engage the Taliban leadership inside Pakistan via Spec Ops or drones for it to ultimately work, and that means invading Pakistani territory and then dealing with the consequences. But COIN can work…it worked in Iraq, our troops are trained perfectly well to make it happen in Afghanistan too.
    Of course this is not what the President has decided upon, so we need to deal with the reality of Spec Ops being the way forward along with Afghan training. This can work too (not as well, but it’s alot better then nothing) We can use Spec Ops, drones, CIA paramilitaries, and Tier 1 units to hammer the worst Taliban, Al Qaida and Haqqanis, while keeping Kabul and that loser Karzai safe. If we DO NOT cut the military aggressively and keep our forces strong we can prevail to an acceptable extent in Afghanistan and prove we are not the British or the Russians when it comes to waging war in the so called “graveyard of empires.”

  • Ghost Soldier says:

    With all due respect, you have made two critical errors:
    1. You applied the lessons learned in the application of COIN in Iraq in generalized terms to ‘Afghanistan’.
    2. You assume that the are in question in this area, Kunar Province, shares similarities to the rest of Afghanistan. Most people who have spent at least a year there in intelligence will tell you that Kunar and Nuristan are unlike any other area in Afghanistan. They rarely recognize the Durand Line or the Kabul government. So much so that Hamid Karzai requested US troops move to secure Barg-e Matal during Operation Mountain Fire in summer 2009 in order to secure his election victory. The battle ended up lasting two months.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Ghost Soldier. My experience in Afghanistan mainly was night raids and ambushes in the South and East of the country against High Ranking Taliban/Al Qaida targets. THE 1st Battalion of the MSOR (Marine Special Operations Regiment) worked with the SEALs and the British SBS in these Ops. We really didn’t enagage in traditional counter-insurgency while I was “in country”. I may have had a different experience then you did there. My point was that I think the COIN startegy could work in Afghanistan if given the right number of troops and military support….but I could be wrong. We were coming at it from a Spe Ops/ hunter/killer perspective unlike regular ground troops.


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