Coalition and Afghan special operations forces killed an al Qaeda-linked insurgent leader in Afghanistan’s rugged northeastern province of Nuristan yesterday.
Kanjar, who is also known as Turab, was killed during an operation in the Waygal district, a known safe haven for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Movement of Taliban in Pakistan.
The International Security Assistance Force described Kanjar as “an insurgent leader with ties to both the al Qaeda terrorist organization and the Taliban insurgency.”
“He provided safe-haven to al Qaeda members operating throughout Nuristan and coordinated Taliban activities in the region. He also oversaw the training of Taliban insurgents in the province,” the ISAF statement said.
Kanjar was “an Afghan,” an ISAF Joint Command Media Operations official told The Long War Journal. “He was affiliated with both the Taliban and al Qaeda.”
Nuristan and Kunar provinces are terrorist havens
Today’s operation marks the third time in the past three months that the US has killed an al Qaeda-linked insurgent leader in Nuristan. On June 25, Musa, an al Qaeda and Taliban-linked insurgent leader who was also known as Baitullah and Qalam, was killed in an airstrike in Waygal.
Dost Mohammed, the Taliban’s shadow governor of Nuristan, is one of the most wanted Taliban commanders in Afghanistan. He has organized massed assaults on US bases in the province and bolstered his forces with al Qaeda and Pakistani terror groups. In one such attack, on Camp Keating in October 2009, Dost’s fighters, backed by al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, overran a portion of the base and killed nine US soldiers. In another attack, in July 2008 in the town of Wanat in Waygal, nine US soldiers were killed after their base was nearly overrun.
Nuristan serves as a safe haven for al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and other regional terror groups. In October 2010, just six months before his death in a US special operations raid, Osama bin Laden ordered the relocation of hundreds of al Qaeda’s key personnel from North and South Waziristan to Kunar and Nuristan provinces to avoid US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
In a document that was seized from his compound and later declassified and released, Bin Laden said the Kunar and Nuristan area is “more fortified due to its rougher terrain and the many mountains, rivers, and trees and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy.” He added, “This will defend the brothers from the aircrafts, but will not defend them from the traitors.”
Al Qaeda’s leader in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province has been identified as Farouq al Qahtani, according to a classified US military assessment that was leaked to The New York Times in February. The assessment, which was based on prisoner interrogations, said that al Qaeda maintains “a small haven” in Nuristan and Kunar.
Several al Qaeda leaders from Saudi Arabia, as well as the leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kunar, have been killed in Kunar over the past several months [see LWJ report, Laskar-e-Taiba commander killed in recent airstrike in Kunar, for more details].
Nuristan continues to serve as a haven for several terror groups. In September 2011, Governor Nuristani said that six of the eight districts in his province, including Waygal, were effectively under Taliban control [see LWJ report, Governor: Most of Nuristan under Taliban control]. Much of Nuristan is still either under Taliban control or is contested.
The Afghan government and the Coalition have given up on waging counterinsurgency operations in Nuristan and Kunar. At the end of 2009, the US military withdrew from several combat outposts in the rugged, remote provinces. Instead, conventional and special operations forces began launching periodic sweeps to cull the Taliban forces, or “mowing the grass,” as a senior US general described it in April 2011.
The US is temporarily sending a battalion of troops back into Nuristan to reestablish outposts in the province. The battalion of soldiers will be withdrawn in October and will not be replaced [see Threat Matrix report, US returns to Afghanistan’s ‘Lost Province,’ for a while].
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.