Yesterday, Afghan and Coalition forces captured a commander from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during yet another operation in the Kunduz district of Kunduz province. The International Security Assistance Force reported that the captured leader “is alleged to lead a cell of insurgent fighters responsible for improvised explosive device and direct fire attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces” and that before his arrest “he was believed actively planning to assassinate an Afghan National Security Forces official.”
ISAF revealed to The Long War Journal that the detained leader is an Afghan national of Pashtun ethnicity. When asked if the insurgent fighters in his cell were foreign fighters, ISAF responded that “there are no indications of Uzbek or foreign involvement.” Since the IMU is a designated foreign terrorist organization whose leadership is believed to be based in Pakistan, ISAF must have meant that all of the fighters in the cell were Afghan.
Yesterday’s operation follows a similar raid conducted on March 18 that also captured an IMU commander in the same district.
Steep increase in frequency of operations against IMU so far in 2013
According to a study by The Long War Journal, Afghan and Coalition special operation forces have greatly increased the frequency of their efforts against the IMU so far this year. Yesterday’s raid in Kunduz was the 12th operation targeting the al Qaeda-linked group this year, and the fourth in that district. By contrast, in the first three months of 2012, there were only six reported raids targeting IMU members in Afghanistan. During the same time in 2011 there were 11 raids, and in early 2010, only one.
Despite the high success rate these operations have had in killing or capturing IMU leaders and facilitators, it is worrisome that the number of raids in the first quarter of the year has doubled in comparison to last year. This trend is noteworthy in light of the fact that from 2010 through most of 2012, ISAF troop strength was at its highest in the more than decade long war.
To be fair, the majority of ISAF combat strength has been deployed in the south and east of the country, where the insurgency has been strongest. But that still does not explain why after 11 years of war and dozens of special operations raids targeting the IMU’s leadership and facilitation networks in northern Afghanistan, the number of operations against the group is at its highest. Shouldn’t the number of raids be at its lowest, indicating a diminished IMU presence?
Perhaps ISAF and its Special Operations Joint Task Force -Afghanistan (SOJTF-A) prioritize the targeting of members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other insurgent groups and are now just shifting the crosshairs onto the IMU. But according to The Long War Journal study, operations targeting al Qaeda members or insurgents with direct ties to the terrorist group have not significantly decreased this year either.
So far in the first quarter of this year, two operations have been conducted targeting al Qaeda, both in Afghanistan’s restive Kunar province. By comparison, in the first three months of 2012 there was one such operation, in 2011 there were five, and again one in 2010. These numbers are not high, but they do indicate a fairly consistent operational tempo against the group that has been the primary target of US forces in the country since late 2001.
Today, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith announced that at least 1,000 of his country’s troops will be leaving by the end of 2013. The US and other ISAF partners have announced similar withdrawal plans that will shift the security burden almost entirely to Afghan forces. If the rate of operations against al Qaeda remains about the same and operations against the IMU are at a high, can the US and its allies have any confidence that Afghan forces will be able to defeat, or at least contain, these terrorist groups on their own?
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