Qari Zia Rahman and a map of northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Map from the Asia Times; click to view.
An Afghan Army spokesman claimed that Qari Zia Rahman, a wanted Taliban leader who is also known to be a leader in al Qaeda, was killed in a Coalition airstrike yesterday in the remote northeastern province of Kunar. The report of Qari Zia’s death has not been confirmed.
Qari Zia and “three other local insurgent leaders [were] killed in an airstrike carried out by the NATO-led coalition forces,” Afghan National Army spokesman Mohammad Haroun Yousufi told Xinhua. “The attack took place in Marawara district Wednesday afternoon when the leaders were holding a meeting there.”
The report of Qari Zia’s death has not been confirmed. He has been reported to have been killed by the Pakistani military in the past. In early 2010, the Pakistani government claimed it killed Qari Zia in an airstrike, but he later spoke to the media and mocked Pakistan’s interior minister for wrongly reporting his death.
The International Security Assistance Force told The Long War Journal that it is investigating the report of an airstrike in Kunar province. ISAF stopped issuing press releases on its operations against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as of June 27.
The Marawara district in Kunar has long served as a base of operations for the Taliban and al Qaeda. In 2010, when ISAF launched multiple operations to hunt for Qari Zia, ISAF identified Marawara as “a safe haven and staging base for insurgents under the command of Qari Zia ur-Rahman.”
Other districts in Kunar, such as Watahpur, are also known safe havens for al Qaeda and allied groups such as Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. ISAF has killed multiple al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders in airstrikes and operations in Watahpur over the past several years.
For years, the rugged, remote Afghan province of Kunar has served as a sanctuary for al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba cells has been detected in the districts of Asmar, Asadabad, Dangam, Ghazibad, Marawana, Nari, Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Shigal, and Watahpur; or 11 of Kunar’s 15 districts, according to press releases issued by ISAF that have been compiled by The Long War Journal.
Dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda leaders
In the same 2010 ISAF press release that identified Marawara as an al Qaeda safe haven, ISAF also named Qari Zia as a “a Taliban leader and known member of Al Qaeda operating in Kunar Province.”
Qari Zia’s designation as both a Taliban leader and an al Qaeda commander is not unique. The US military and government have also identified other dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda operatives over the past several years. Qari Zia Rahman, Sheikh Aminullah, and Mullah Nazir are just three examples of terrorist commanders known to work for both al Qaeda and the Taliban.
On Aug. 20, the US State Department added the Ganj Madrassa in Peshawar, Pakistan to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist organizations. The recent designation noted that Fazeel-A-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen Al-Peshawari, who also known as Sheikh Aminullah, controls the madrassa. The US described Aminullah as an “al Qaeda facilitator” who also supports that Taliban. In 2011, the Taliban appointed Aminullah to lead the Peshawar Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban’s four major military commands [see LWJ reports, Taliban appoint al Qaeda-linked commander to lead Peshawar shura and Treasury designates al Qaeda leader, madrassa].
Mullah Nazir, the leader of the South Waziristan, Pakistan-based Mullah Nazir Group, was another such dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda leader before he was killed in a US drone strike in January 2013. Nazir had identified himself an al Qaeda leader. The US State Department told The Long War Journal that prior to Nazir’s death, preparations had begun to add him to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. His successor, Bahawal Khan, and the Mullah Nazir Group have been added as SDGTs for supporting al Qaeda.
Up until late June, when it stopped issuing operational updates, ISAF had announced numerous raids against dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda commanders. For instance, in 2010, ISAF said that it had killed Abu Baqir, described as “a dual-hatted Taliban sub-commander and al Qaeda group leader,” during a raid in Kunduz. And in 2012, ISAF announced that it killed Asad, an “al Qaeda-associated Taliban leader,” during an operation in Kunar.
Background on Qari Zia Rahman
Qari Zia is the Taliban’s top regional commander in northeastern Afghanistan as well as a member of al Qaeda. He is known to operate in Kunar and in neighboring Nuristan province in Afghanistan, and he also operates across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Bajaur. Qari Zia is one of the most wanted Taliban leaders operating in Afghanistan.
Qari Zia is closely allied with top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. His fighters are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and various Arab nations. He commands a brigade in al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
He is also responsible for establishing training camps that are used to indoctrinate and train females, including children, to carry out suicide attacks on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. The US military said he was responsible for a female suicide attack in Kunar province on June 21, 2010 that killed two US soldiers [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda, Taliban create female suicide cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan].
The US targeted Qari Zia in multiple raids in Kunar over the summer and fall of 2010, but failed to kill or capture him. In late July and early August of that year, ISAF announced that it was hunting Qari Zia Rahman. The US targeted Qari Zia in three raids that summer. On June 29, 2010, the US launched a battalion-sized operation in Kunar’s Marawara district, which directly borders Pakistan. More than 150 Taliban fighters were reported killed in the operation. On July 20, 2010, US and Afghan forces launched another battalion-sized operation in Marawara to flush out Qari Zia. And on Aug. 2, 2010, combined forces conducted a raid, again in Marawara, that targeted the al Qaeda leader.
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