Just days after al Qaeda released a video of its fighters conducting operations in Ghazni, Afghan officials said that “foreign militants” are continuing to flood the southeastern province.
Musa Khan Akbarzada, the governor of Ghazni, said that the Taliban is bringing in “foreign militants” to the province, while Abdul Jami Jami, the deputy chief of the provincial council, accused Pakistan and Iran of stirring up trouble there, Pajhwok Afghan News reported. Jami also said that a large number of Pakistanis are currently fighting in Ghazni.
Pajhwok also reported that a resident of the restive district of Andar in Ghazni said that Pakistanis, Arabs, and Chechens are fighting there.
“The growing number of foreign militants” are “aided by local fighters,” the news outlet reported.
Ghazni province has been the scene of a nascent tribal uprising against the Taliban. Three 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, Badghis, Faryab, and Ghor. The Taliban have accused the US of raising local militias and denied that the uprisings are a rebuke to Taliban rule.
Andar is an al Qaeda hub
The Andar district in Ghazni is a known Taliban and al Qaeda hub in the southeast. Since August 2008, the US military has conducted eight raids against al Qaeda cells in Andar, according to military press reports compiled by The Long War Journal. Senior Taliban and al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitators are known to operate in the district.
A US military commander who operated in the southeastern province has said that “foreign trainers” are working with the Taliban in the district of Andar, while Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate is seen as sabotaging Coalition efforts in the province.
“We also have seen some indications that there have been foreign trainers that have come to train the local Taliban who are fighting here in Andar,” Lieutenant Colonel David Fivecoat, commander of 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, told TOLOnews in January 2011. The report stated that the “foreign trainers” are “Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis.”
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.]
Andar is the second district in Ghazni to have been identified by the US military as a location where Pakistani, Chechen, and Arab fighters are operating. In July 2010, the International Security Assistance Force targeted a Taliban commander “who is responsible for smuggling Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters and improvised explosive device materials into Shah Joy district from Pakistan.”
Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan 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, Deh Yak, Gelan, Ghazni, Shah Joy, and Waghaz, or six of the province’s 16 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Coalition and Afghan special operations forces have stepped up raids against al Qaeda’s network in Ghazni province this year. There have been six raids against al Qaeda’s network in Ghazni so far in 2012; all have taken place since the end of July. The last two raids were conducted on Sept. 10 and Sept. 12. A commander who helped “foreign insurgents” move throughout the province was captured in one raid. Another leader who was targeted serves as “the senior liaison between multiple insurgent groups operating in central and eastern Afghanistan” was targeted in the other.
Over the past several years, a number of al Qaeda leaders and operatives have been killed or captured in Ghazni. Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated Pakistani scientist who has been dubbed “Lady al Qaeda” by the press, was captured in Ghazni in 2008. At least six other al Qaeda operatives have been captured, and another has been killed, in the province [see LWJ report, ISAF targets al Qaeda-linked Taliban operative in Afghan southeast].
Al Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban admit they conduct operations in Ghazni
Al Qaeda and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda ally across the border, have also identified Ghazni as a province where the terror groups carry out operations. On Sept. 11, a jihadist uploaded a video from 2011 showing al Qaeda teams conducting operations in the province.
The video, which was posted on YouTube and obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group, was produced by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s media arm. In the video, the narrator refers to the fighters as “guests” who are fighting in Afghanistan.
“So, one time you are pursuing the enemy and pounding their fortresses and centers, and another time you are wanted and almost caught, and your heart is full of fear and hope, and other times you roam in this vast land while contemplating the meanings of its vastness while you are a guest in it,” the al Qaeda narrator says, according to SITE. “So, welcome guest, and may you enjoy the resources of the land and its blessings.”
In February 2009, al Qaeda released the 13th edition of Vanguards of Khorasan, a magazine produced by al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In that magazine, the terror group published “Field Reports” that included information on attacks in Ghazni, as well as in the provinces of Baghlan, Badkhashan, Farah, Jawzjan, Kabul, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Nimroz, Paktika, Wardak, and Zabul.
And in an interview with As Sahab released in January 2010, Waliur Rahman Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the tribal agency of South Waziristan, said his fighters are conducting attacks in Ghazni and other Afghan provinces.
“Praise be to God, our comrades, whether they were suicide bombers or other fighters, have been fighting on various fronts in Afghanistan: Helmand, Zabul, Kandahar, Ghazni, Khost, all districts of Khost, Paktia and Paktika,” he told As Sahab.
Ghazni was even mentioned by Osama bin Laden in late 2010 as an ideal fallback position for al Qaeda operatives seeking to escape the US drone strikes in North and South Waziristan. Kunar, Nuristan, and Zabul provinces were also considered to be safe for al Qaeda members, according to one of the documents seized from his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.