Special operations forces killed an al Qaeda “facilitator” from Pakistan in an airstrike in the remote eastern Afghan province of Kunar, which has served as a terrorist safe haven. The al Qaeda facilitator is the seventh senior Pakistani jihadist killed in Kunar since June.
The International Security Assistance Force confirmed that Abdul Rauf, who is also known as Iftikhar, was killed in an airstrike in the Marawarah district on Sept. 23. “Security force engaged Abdul Rauf with a precision airstrike, killing him and two other insurgents,” ISAF said in a press release. The strike was called in after Rauf was seen while “engaged in insurgent activity.”
Rauf was “a Pakistani al Qaeda facilitator who coordinated the movement of foreign fighters into the country, as well as constructing improvised explosive devices for attacks against security forces,” according to ISAF. The term “foreign fighters” is often used by ISAF to describe foreign al Qaeda fighters.
Pakistani jihadists serve as al Qaeda’s deep bench
Pakistanis have increasingly taken on leadership roles in al Qaeda over the past several years. Pakistani jihadists serve as al Qaeda’s “deep bench” who fill leadership and other vital roles in the network in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Since June, ISAF airstrikes in Afghanistan’s Kunar province have killed seven Pakistani al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leaders as well as several other lower-level operatives.
On Sept. 6, ISAF killed Abu Saif and three other al Qaeda operatives in an airstrike in the Watahpur district. Abu Saif and two of the other operatives were Pakistanis; the third was a Saudi.
On Aug. 25, ISAF killed Mullah Dadullah, the emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s branch in Bajaur, and his deputy, Shakir, and 10 of their fighters in an airstrike in the Shigal wa Sheltan district in Kunar province. Dadullah has been using Kunar as a launchpad to strike in northwestern Pakistan.
On Aug. 3, an ISAF airstrike in the Watahpur district killed Mufti Assad, al Qaeda’s emir for Kunar, and his deputy, Yusuf. Both men were Pakistani citizens, ISAF told The Long War Journal.
On June 29, an ISAF airstrike killed Khatab Shafiq, a Pakistani citizen who served as Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leader for Kunar province, and Ammar, another commander for the terror group. The Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda operate together in Afghanistan.
In addition, three senior Pakistanis who served as top al Qaeda leaders and numerous other lower-level operatives have been killed in drone strikes just across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan over the past year.
In June 2011, Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a drone strike that leveled a compound in the Wana area of South Waziristan. Kashmiri served as al Qaeda’s military commander and head of the Lashkar-al Zil, or Shadow Army. He also was a member of al Qaeda’s external operations network executive council. A longtime jihadist in Pakistan, Kashmiri was a senior leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami.
A Jan. 11, 2012 strike in Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network.
A Feb. 8 strike killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in Miramshah’s bazaar. Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border, and linked up members of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen with al Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden described Mansoor as one of several commanders of al Qaeda’s “companies” operating in the tribal areas. He was later promoted to lead al Qaeda’s forces in the tribal areas.
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.
Since the end of May, special operations forces have conducted at least 21 raids against al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan. The raids took place in 12 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.
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.