ISAF kills, captures al Qaeda-linked Taliban commanders in east

Coalition and Afghan special operations forces captured an al Qaeda-linked Taliban commander in Ghazni and killed another in Kunar during raids over the past 24 hours. Both commanders were targeted in areas that have emerged as havens for al Qaeda.

In Kunar, special operations forces killed Mutaqi, an “al Qaeda associated Taliban leader in the province” and several other “insurgents” in another airstrike in the Watahpur district, the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

Mutaqi, who was also known as Mullah Amir Muhammad or Malik, “was responsible for passing critical information between the senior al Qaeda associated Taliban leaders in Kunar province.” He was also responsible for planning suicide attacks in eastern Afghanistan.

Over the past five days, there have been three airstrikes in the Watahpur district targeting senior al Qaeda leaders. An Aug. 18 airstrike in Watahpur killed a Taliban commander, four Pakistanis, and two Arabs [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda-linked Taliban commander killed in recent airstrike in Kunar]. And on Aug. 17, an “al Qaeda associated Taliban leader” named Yasir was one of “several” insurgents killed in an airstrike in the district.

In Ghazni, the combined special operations forces captured an “al Qaeda-associated Taliban insurgent” during a raid today in the Gelan district, ISAF said. One other “insurgent” was captured during the raid, and material to build bombs was also seized.

The al Qaeda-associated Taliban commander was described as an “attack coordinator” who “assisted in the movement of al Qaeda fighters throughout the region and conducted attacks against Afghan and Coalition forces.” He was “attempting to acquire explosives for future attack” before he was captured.

Today’s raid is the third targeting al Qaeda’s network in Gelan over the past three weeks. While not stated, the commander was likely the same insurgent leader who was targeted on Aug. 12 in Gelan [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda-linked insurgent targeted in Ghazni raid]. Additionally, an al Qaeda-linked commander who plans attacks throughout Ghazni was targeted in the district in late July [see LWJ report, ISAF targets al Qaeda-linked leader in southeastern Afghanistan].

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.

Kunar and Ghazni provinces are known al Qaeda havens. Since the end of May, five al Qaeda leaders and two Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders have been killed in airstrikes in Watahpur alone [see LWJ report, ISAF kills Taliban district governor, ‘dozens’ of fighters in Kunar airstrikes, for more details]. Ghazni has also served as a traditional haven for al Qaeda as well [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda-linked insurgent targeted in Ghazni raid, for more information on al Qaeda activity in Ghazni province].

Osama bin Laden mentioned that both Kunar and Ghazni provinces are ideal fallback positions 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.

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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