2 al Qaeda commanders reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan

Two al Qaeda commanders are reported to have been killed in a US airstrike in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika. The deaths of the jihadist leaders, who are members of an al Qaeda company known as the Badr Mansoor Group, have not been confirmed.

The two were identified by Dawn as Aqalzadin and Ikramullah, who were among seven jihadists reported to have been killed in “a US drone strike” that targeted “a compound near Komal village of Paktika province.” The area is near Pakistan’s tribal agency of South Waziristan, which is a hub for al Qaeda and other Pakistani jihadist groups.

Al Qaeda and other Pakistani jihadist groups have not released a statement announcing the martyrdom of the two Badr Mansoor Group commanders.

It is unclear if the airstrike was carried out by the International Security Assistance Force or the CIA. Both ISAF and the CIA operate the remotely piloted Predators and Reapers in Afghanistan, while the CIA exclusively directs drone strikes in Pakistan. ISAF has not responded to an inquiry by The Long War Journal on the operation, whereas the CIA does not release information on its air operations in Afghanistan or across the border in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda is known to maintain a presence in Paktika province, which is a hub for the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban subgroup. On June 2, jihadist forums published a video titled “We are on a journey to the hereafter,” and was released by As Sahab in the Subcontinent. As Sahab is the name of al Qaeda’s official media arm.

The video showed al Qaeda operatives conducting training exercises and executing attacks in Paktika’s Urgun district. The video included a speech by Hajji Abdullah Afghani and another unnamed Afghan al Qaeda commander who called for Muslims across the world to wage jihad.

“Waging jihad is obligatory upon all Muslims and upon the entire Muslim Ummah,” the unnamed al Qaeda commander said in a speech. He continued: “And why should we wage jihad? So that the Koran can become the ultimate authority in the entire world!” according to a translation of the speech that was obtained by The Long War Journal.

Badr Mansoor Group one of al Qaeda’s military companies in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Badr Mansoor Group is named after Badr Mansoor, a Harakat-ul-Mujahideen leader in Pakistan who rose in al Qaeda’s ranks to lead the group’s forces in the tribal areas before he was killed in a US drone strike in Miramshah, North Waziristan in February 2012.

In one of the 17 documents that were released by the US from Osama bin Laden’s collection of thousands seized during the Abbottabad raid, Mansoor was identified as a commander of a “company” of al Qaeda’s forces operating in Pakistan. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan and Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader.]

At the time of his death, Mansoor was described as al Qaeda’s military leader in Pakistan who was closely linked to other Pakistani terror groups. Mansoor was able to funnel in recruits from Pakistani terror groups such as the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and he was known to have a large cadre of fighters at his disposal. According to Central Asia Online, Mansoor’s company had “more than 2,200 members with 350 hardcore fighters and more than 150 suicide bombers.” His group is believed to have participated in terror attacks in Pakistan’s major cities, including Lahore, Karachi, and Quetta, indicating that its network is not confined to Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The Badr Mansoor Group continued to operate after its leader’s death.

In August, the US State Department confirmed that Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen is currently running training camps in Afghanistan. While not stated in the designation, these Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen training camps are run by the Badr Mansoor Group. The locations of the camps were not disclosed.

“HUM also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan and has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in the Kashmir region,” The State Department said in an update of its Foreign Terrorist Designation of Harakat-ul-Mujahideen that listed Ansar ul-Ummah as “a front organization.” [See LWJ report, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen ‘operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan’.]

Al Qaeda still present in Afghanistan

While Obama administration officials have stated that al Qaeda has been “decimated” in Afghanistan in Pakistan, and military officials have said al Qaeda is confined to the northeastern eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, the group and its allies such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have continued to operate throughout Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda and its allies have been heavily targeted by ISAF in special operations raids over the past decade. ISAF publicized 338 raids from 2007 until the summer of 2013, when it ended reporting. Many senior jihadist leaders and operatives were killed or captured during those operations. [See LWJ report, ISAF raids against al Qaeda and allies in Afghanistan 2007-2013.]

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s leader in Afghanistan was captured in one of the raids in 2011. He has since been released and has returned to lead jihadists in Kunduz province. [See LWJ report, Senior IMU leader captured by ISAF in 2011 now leads fight in northern Afghanistan.]

Although reporting on the raids ended, the operations have not stopped. One such raid, in December 2013, targeted a boat that was transporting al Qaeda and Taliban operatives on the Kabul River. That raid killed two al Qaeda commanders, three members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and two members of the Afghan Taliban.

The two al Qaeda leaders were described as “close companions of Ilyas Kashmiri,” the renowned Pakistani jihadist who was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in June 2011. Kashmiri rose through the ranks of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, or HUJI, led Brigade 313, and ultimately served as the leader of al Qaeda’s Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, and as a member of al Qaeda’s military shura at the time of his death.

The al Qaeda operatives were commanders in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s paramilitary unit that fields forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and also embeds military trainers within Taliban units in both countries. These trainers provide instruction for battling security forces in local insurgencies, as well as knowledge, expertise, funding, and resources to conduct local and international attacks. [For more information on this unit, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army,’ from February 2009.]

A new regional al Qaeda branch

In the past week, al Qaeda formalized its relationship with the various jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan by announcing the creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

The formation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was announced by the group’s emir Ayman al Zawahiri in a video released on Sept. 5. In that statement, Zawahiri noted that AQIS “is the fruit of a blessed effort for more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity to be with the main group, Qaedat al-Jihad, from the soldiers of the Islamic Emirate and its triumphant emir, Allah permitting, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

The new regional al Qaeda affiliate likely includes elements from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Harakat-ul-Muhajideen, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Brigade 313, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Indian Mujahideen (a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, Junood al Fida, and other groups based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. AQIS has since claimed credit for two attacks in Pakistan, including the assassination of a military officer and an attempt to hijack a Pakistani frigate in order to attack US warships in the region.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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