Coalition and Afghan special operations forces captured “three suspected insurgents” during a raid that targeted an al Qaeda associate who operates in the southeastern province of Ghazni.
The combined special operations team attempted to capture the “al Qaeda associated insurgent” during a raid in the Gelan district in Ghazni today, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. It is unclear if he was captured during the raid.
ISAF said the al Qaeda-associated insurgent “coordinates the movement of al Qaeda terrorists throughout the region” and plans attacks against Afghan and Coalition forces in Gelan.
Additionally, ISAF conducted a second raid in Gelan that targeted a Taliban commander who “plans and directs attacks against Afghan and coalition security forces.” Several fighters were detained and explosives were found during the raid.
Today’s raid is the second that targeted al Qaeda’s network in Gelan in two weeks. On July 27, a special operations team targeted an “al Qaeda-associated insurgent leader” in Gelan who is responsible for attacks throughout Ghazni.
Al Qaeda presence is pervasive in Afghanistan
While ISAF and the US government have characterized al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan as being confined to the remote northeast provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, ISAF’s own press releases identifying raids against al Qaeda present an even starker picture. ISAF has conducted raids against al Qaeda leaders and associates in Balkh, Farah, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Sar-i-Pul, Takhar, Wardak, and Zabul, or 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Many of these raids have taken place over the past two years.
Al Qaeda and allied terror groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Islamic Jihad Union, maintain an extensive reach in Afghanistan. This is documented in the body of press releases issued in recent years by ISAF. Looking at press releases dating back to March 2007, The Long War Journal has been able to detect the presence of al Qaeda and affiliated groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in 114 different districts in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Background on al Qaeda activity in Ghazni province
Al Qaeda and allied terror groups maintain a strong presence in Ghazni province. The presence of al Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan cells has been detected in the districts of Andar, Gelan, Ghazni, Shah Joy, and Waghaz, or five of the province’s 16 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Osama bin Laden mentioned that Ghazni province is a fallback position for al Qaeda operatives seeking to escape the US drone strikes in North and South Waziristan, according to one of the documents seized from his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and released to the public.
US forces are known to have captured seven 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. Siddiqui was detained in Ghazni City on July 17, 2008, and attempted to kill US military officers and FBI agents during her interrogation the next day. According to US prosecutors, Siddiqui 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 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.
In June 2011, special operations forces captured five al Qaeda operatives during a raid in the Gelan district that targeted a “senior al Qaeda facilitator” who operates from Pakistan and supports attacks in Afghanistan. “The facilitator, who typically operates in Pakistan, helps plan terrorist operations and moves fighters, money and materials into Afghanistan and Pakistan,” ISAF said in a press release.
Additionally, in July 2012, a Jordanian known as Abu Abdul Rahman al Aseer al Urduni, or Abu Musab al Hurani, was killed in the Muqur district. He served as a recruiter for slain al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and was a prominent member of the jihadist forums. He fought in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Arakzai prior to entering Afghanistan in 2012.
Ghazni province has been the scene of a nascent tribal uprising against the Taliban. Two months ago, Afghans in the districts of Andar and Deh Yak raised militias after the Taliban closed down schools and imposed their harsh brand of Islamic law. Limited uprisings have also been reported in the provinces of Paktia, Laghman, Nuristan, Kunar, and Faryab. The Taliban have accused the US of raising local militias.
For more information on al Qaeda’s presence in Ghazni, see LWJ report, ISAF targets al Qaeda-linked Taliban operative in Afghan southeast.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.