The International Security Assistance Force confirmed that another Saudi al Qaeda leader was killed in an airstrike early last month in the terrorist haven of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan.
Abu Walid, who was also known as Amru Mastur al Ghamrawi, was one of two al Qaeda leaders who were killed in an airstrike in the Watahpur district in Kunar on Aug 3. ISAF launched two airstrikes in Watahpur on Aug. 3; al Qaeda’s emir for Kunar and his deputy were killed in the other strike.
Abu Walid was “a Saudi al Qaeda leader and improvised explosive device expert who participated in numerous attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, particularly in Waygal district, Nuristan province,” ISAF said in a press release today announcing his death. “Abu Walid worked with and trained Taliban insurgents on IED construction.”
The strike that killed Abu Walid also killed Fatah Gul, an “al Qaeda facilitator” who ran IED training camps. Gul, who was also known as Inzir and Shahid, “provided safe haven to al Qaeda affiliated terrorists operating in eastern Afghanistan.” He was an Afghan citizen, ISAF’s Joint Command Media Operations told The Long War Journal.
The other strike on Aug. 3 killed Mufti Assad, al Qaeda’s emir for Kunar, and his deputy, Yusuf. Assad, who was also known as Mufti Punjabi, Abdul Qudus, and Sufyan, “controlled al Qaeda terrorists operating in Kunar,” and was an IED expert who trained other terrorists to carry out attacks, ISAF said. “He led dozens of al Qaeda affiliated fighters throughout eastern Afghanistan and coordinated their attacks across the region.” Yusuf, who was also known as Omar and Rayhman, was “an IED expert who directed insurgent attacks across eastern Afghanistan.” Assad and Yusuf “were both Pakistani” citizens, ISAF’s Joint Command Media Operations told The Long War Journal.
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 is a known al Qaeda haven. Since the end of May, six 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]. Additionally, three al Qaeda-associated Taliban commanders were killed in three separate airstrikes in Watahpur in mid-August [see LWJ report, ISAF kills, captures al Qaeda-linked Taliban commanders in east].
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.
Al Qaeda’s leader in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province has been identified as Farouq al Qahtani, according to a classified US military assessment that was leaked to The New York Times in February. The assessment, which was based on prisoner interrogations, said that al Qaeda maintains “a small haven” in Kunar and Nuristan.
Another senior al Qaeda leader known to operate in Kunar is Azzam Abdullah Zureik Al Maulid Al Subhi, a Saudi who is better known as Mansur al Harbi. He was added by the State Department to the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list on Aug. 7. The Saudi Interior Ministry has said that al Harbi works “at a training camp in Afghanistan and is tied to numerous senior al Qaeda leaders including Abdel Aziz Migrin and Saif al Adel.” Migrin headed al Qaeda’s branch in Saudi Arabia and led attacks in the kingdom before he was killed in a firefight with Saudi security forces in June 2004. Saif al Adel is al Qaeda’s second in command and top military strategist, and served as the interim leader after Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011.
Additionally, Qari Zia Rahman, a dual-hatted al Qaeda and Taliban leader, operates in Kunar province as well as across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur. ISAF forces have been hunting Qari Zia for years but have failed to capture or kill him.
Saudis hold key al Qaeda leadership positions in Afghanistan
Saudis are known to have held senior al Qaeda leadership positions in Kunar, where al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba maintain a safe haven and run terror training camps.
In addition to Abu Walid, who was killed in the Aug. 3 strike, five other Saudis have been killed by Coalition special operations forces in Kunar since September 2010. In addition, several Pakistani and Afghan members of al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba have been killed in recent airstrikes in Kunar.
On July 1, a Saudi known as Hanzallah was killed in an airstrike in the Watahpur district in Kunar. Hanzallah served as a military advisor to “insurgents” in Kunar, Nuristan, and Laghman provinces, and trained fighters in carrying out IED attacks. Hanzallah was not on the Saudi’s most-wanted list.
On May 28, an ISAF airstrike killed Sakhr al Taifi, a Saudi al Qaeda leader who was also known as Musthaq and Nasim, and another unnamed al Qaeda fighter. Al Taifi served as al Qaeda’s second in command in Afghanistan, according to ISAF.
In April 2011, ISAF killed Abu Hafs al Najdi, al Qaeda’s operations chief for Kunar, who was wanted by the Saudi government.
And in September 2010, ISAF killed Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi and Sa’ad Mohammad al Shahri. Al Qurayshi was a senior al Qaeda commander who coordinated the attacks of a group of Arab fighters in Kunar and Nuristan provinces and also maintained extensive contacts with al Qaeda facilitators throughout the Middle East. Al Shahri was a longtime jihadist and the son of a retired Saudi colonel.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.