Coalition and Afghan special operations forces killed an al Qaeda “weapons expert” during an operation in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika several days ago. The raid is the 19th that has been reported against al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan since the end of May.
The International Security Assistance Force confirmed that Taqwa, who is also known as Eissa Khan, was killed in an airstrike on Sept. 12 during an operation in the Mata Khan district in Paktika. Taqwa was “transporting weapons toward a populated area” when he was identified and then killed, ISAF said in a press release.
Taqwa was “an al Qaeda weapons expert” who “is suspected of directing multiple attacks against Afghan and Coalition forces, often using improvised explosive devices, and equipping insurgent and terrorist fighters with weapons, ammunition and explosives.” He was thought to have been plotting to kidnap Afghan security personnel in the area.
Taqwa “is confirmed to be an Afghan national,” ISAF joint Command’s Media Operations center told The Long War Journal.
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.]
Al Qaeda and allied groups maintain a presence in Paktika province, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. US military press releases document the presence of al Qaeda and “foreign fighter” cells in the districts of Bermel, Mata Khan, Sar Rowzah, Wor Mamay, Yahya Khel, Yosuf Khel, Zadran, and Ziruk; or eight of Paktika’s 18 districts.
Al Qaeda fighters are known to have been killed while fighting in Paktika. Most recently, in June 2011, al Qaeda announced the death of Mahmoud Hamdan Nizal, a Jordanian who was known as Abu Dher al Urduni. Nizal was killed while attacking Combat Outpost Margah, his martyrdom statement claimed.
Paktika province serves as a safe haven for the Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup with close ties to al Qaeda. Paktika province is run by Mullah Sangeen Zadran, who is the shadow governor. Mullah Sangeen is a senior lieutenant to Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the Haqqani Network who serves on the top councils for al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Mullah Sangeen has been designated by the US as a global terrorist for his ties to al Qaeda and links to terrorist attacks. Sangeen has admitted his ties to al Qaeda. In September 2009, Sangeen granted an interview with As Sahab, al Qaeda’s media arm, in which he stated: “Al Qaeda and the Taliban all are Muslims and we are united by the brotherhood of Islam. We do not see any difference between Taliban and al Qaeda, for we all belong to the religion of Islam. Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] has pledged allegiance to Amir al Mumineen [the Leader of the Faithful, Mullah Muhammad Omar] and has reassured his leadership again and again. There is no difference between us, for we are united by Islam and the Sharia governs us.”
In January 2012, Sangeen conducted an interview with Al Samood, the Taliban’s magazine, and claimed that there is no difference between the Haqqani Network and the Taliban. In June, Sangeen called for foreign fighters to join his ranks.
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.
Since the end of May, special operations forces have conducted at least 19 raids against al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan. The raids took place in 10 different districts in seven provinces — Ghazni, Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, and Takhar. ISAF does not disclose information or issue a press release on each raid conducted against terror groups in Afghanistan.
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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.