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.