The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) captured two Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commanders during separate raids in northern Afghanistan over the past two days. Special operations forces have captured five IMU operatives during five raids in the Afghan north so far this year.
Today, ISAF forces captured a a leader from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and another “insurgent” in Baghlan’s Burkah district. The leader “is believed to have overseen intelligence operations for an IMU network and for coordinating IED emplacement in the province,” ISAF stated in a press release. He also served as “a Taliban facilitator who provided safe haven for Taliban insurgents traveling through Burkah district.”
And on Feb. 8, ISAF forces captured another IMU commander during an operation in Yangi Qal’ah district, Takhar province. The captured leader was an explosives expert who was “assisting with the planning of an impending high profile attack,” according to ISAF. He is also known to have coordinated the building of IEDs and their movement in the province. One other suspected insurgent was detained during the raid.
The last operation targeting the IMU, which took place on Jan. 29, captured a IMU commander in Baghlan province. The commander was responsible for conducting assassinations and coordinating the supply of weapons to insurgents. That operation followed two other raids in early January which killed an IMU facilitator and captured an IMU leader who also served as a Taliban commander.
In the five raids reported by ISAF that targeted the IMU this year, three have taken place in Baghlan and two have taken place in Takhar. All three raids in Baghlan have occurred in the district of Burkah, which has long served as a safe haven for the IMU and the Taliban.
Additionally, on Feb. 7, ISAF also reported that its forces captured a senior Taliban leader who worked closely with the militant group Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) during an operation by Afghan and Coalition forces in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. The commander is believed to facilitate suicide operations and “manages the recruitment, training and movement of insurgents to conduct attacks.” He is also accused of using his “village leadership position to recruit suicide bombers and insider attack facilitators” from the local high school.
Both HIG and the IMU are known to have bases in the tribal regions of Pakistan and to support suicide bomber facilitation inside Afghanistan. On Sept. 18, 2012, a female HIG suicide bomber killed 12 people, mostly foreign workers, in an attack on a bus near Kabul International Airport.
Background on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a key ally of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and supports operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as plots attacks in Europe. The IMU is known to fight alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has integrated into the Taliban’s shadow government in northern Afghanistan. [For more information on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, see LWJ report, IMU cleric urges Pakistanis to continue sheltering jihadis in Waziristan.]
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters often serve as bodyguards for top Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Apart from its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the IMU has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well. In September 2010, the IMU took credit for an ambush that killed 25 Tajik troops, and also threatened to carry out further attacks in the Central Asian country.
The IMU has claimed credit for numerous suicide assaults in Afghanistan, including the May 19, 2010 attack on the US military airbase in Bagram, the Oct. 15, 2011 assault on the Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Panjshir, and the Oct. 29, 2011 suicide attack that targeted an armored bus in Kabul.
The IMU has been a prime target of special operations forces in Afghanistan. Last year, special operations forces conducted at least 38 raids against the IMU; in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Faryab, Logar, Helmand, Kunduz, Takhar, and Wardak, or eight of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces; according to ISAF press releases compiled by The Long War Journal.
In October 2012, the US Treasury Department added Qari Ayyub Bashir, the “head of finance” for the IMU, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Bashir also serves as a member of the group’s shura, or executive council. Identified as an Uzbek national, Bashir is based out of Mir Ali, in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. As the IMU’s lead financier, he provides financial and “logistical” support for IMU operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and fundraises from outside the region.
Last spring, ISAF killed the two previous IMU leaders for Afghanistan, in raids just a few weeks apart in Faryab province. [See LWJ report, Special operations forces kill newly appointed IMU leader for Afghanistan, for more information.]
Additionally, the US has targeted the IMU’s leaders and network in Pakistan’s tribal areas. US drones have killed the last two emirs of the IMU. On Aug. 4, 2012, the IMU announced that its emir, Abu Usman Adil, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan, and named Usman Ghazi as the new leader of the al Qaeda-linked terror group. Adil had succeeded Tahir Yuldashev, the co-founder of the IMU, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2009.
Adil is credited with increasing the IMU’s profile in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the death of Yuldashev, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Whereas Yuldashev had been content with confining the group’s operations largely to Pakistan’s tribal areas, Adil pushed to expand operations in northern and eastern Afghanistan, as well is in the Central Asian republics.