Senior al Qaeda leader reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan

The US is reported to have killed a senior al Qaeda leader in an airstrike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar near the border with Pakistan’s tribal agency of Khyber. Despite US military officials claims to the contrary, recent raids and airstrikes against al Qaeda show that the network is not limited to operating in the northeastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.

The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service, reported that senior al Qaeda leader Abu Bara al Kuwaiti was killed in a US airstrike in Lal Mandi in the Nazyan district in Nangarhar, which is adjacent to the border with the Tirah Valley in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Khyber, Pajhwok Afghan News reported.

The al Qaeda leader was at the home of Abdul Samad Khanjari, who is described as an al Qaeda military “commander,” when he was killed, TOLONews reported. NDS officers raided Khanjari’s home and seized weapons, a laptop, and documents.

Khanjari is also said to double as the Taliban’s shadow governor for the Achin district in Nangarhar, according to Afghan Islamic Press. This is not uncommon, as members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are known to double as shadow governors in northern Afghan provinces. Additionally, al Qaeda leaders are also known to serve as Taliban commanders; the US military has described these commanders as “dual-hatted” leaders.

Al Qaeda has not confirmed the death of Abu Bara, nor have online jihadists known to be plugged into the network announced his martyrdom.

The NDS said that Abu Bara “had close relations with the family of Ayman al Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leader.”

Abu Bara was likely a member of al Qaeda’s General Command. He was known to be a “student” and “comrade” of Atiyah Abd al Rahman, al Qaeda’s former general manager who was also known as Atiyah Allah and who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in August 2011. Abu Bara wrote Atiyah’s eulogy, which was published in Vanguards of Khorasan, al Qaeda’s official magazine.

In the eulogy, Abu Bara notes several times that he had access to Atiyah’s documents and was trained by the former al Qaeda general manager.

“I was able to know things from his numerous letters in which he advises [jihadists] to be patient, seek the refuge of Almighty God in harsh times, and trust God’s promise of victory even in these ruthless times we are living,” Abu Bara said in the lengthy eulogy for his former boss.

“He used to treat me like he used to treat his son,” Abu Bara continued. “He was like a carrying father and an older brother by guiding me in all issues and teaching and advising me whenever it is possible. I learned from him several things, which he stressed on teaching me. My brother Abu al Hasan al Wa’ili, may God protect him, saw this. He taught me things in religion and life in general.”

Additionally, Abu Bara said that Atiyah informed him that Abu Dujanah al Khurasani executed the Dec. 30, 2009, suicide attack suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province. Seven CIA officers and guards were killed in the attack.

“He [Atiyah] told me all the details regarding this operation and the plan,” Abu Bara said.

The death of Abu Bara, if confirmed, is the second major blow against the terrorist network in Afghanistan and Pakistan this week. On Oct. 14, the NDS captured Anis Haqqani, the son of the Haqqani Network’s leader and the brother of its operational leader, and Hafiz Rashid, the network’s military commander for southeastern Afghanistan, during a special operations raid in Khost province, Afghanistan. [See Threat Matrix report, Afghan intel agency captures two senior Haqqani Network leaders.]

Al Qaeda not concentrated in Kunar and Nuristan

While US military and intelligence officials have repeatedly stated that al Qaeda is confined primarily to the northeastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, recent raids indicate that the jihadist group continues to operate in other eastern provinces.

“AQ [Al Qaeda] maintains a limited presence in the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan such as Kunar and Nuristan, and maintains a seasonal presence in other provinces,” the US Department of Defense stated in the December 2013 edition of the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, US continues to claim al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is minimal .]

Over the past year, five senior and mid-level al Qaeda leaders, in addition to Abu Bara, are reported to have been killed in Nangarhar and Paktika, and just across the border in Khyber. The jihadists were killed in December 2013, and September and October of 2014, indicating that their presence is more than just “seasonal.”

Just over a week ago, the US killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), in a drone strike in the Tirah Valley in Khyber. The strike took place right on the border with Nangarhar, and some reports indicate Imran was actually killed in Nangarhar.

Imran is a longtime jihadist who started his career with the al Qaeda-linked Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. His death was announced by Usama Mahmood, the spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). [See LWJ report, US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official.]

Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda officials announced the creation of AQIS in early September, explaining that it was two years in the making. Mahmood said in his own statement at the time that AQIS was formed by gathering together “several jihadi groups that have a long history in jihad and fighting.” Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, whose leader Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil is closely tied to the group and signed the 1998 fatwa that declared war on the West, is likely one of those groups.

Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen is currently running training camps in Afghanistan, the US State Department said in a update to the group’s terrorist designation in September. [See LWJ report, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen ‘operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan’.]

In mid-September, the US killed Aqalzadin and Ikramullah, two Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen/al Qaeda commanders, in an airstrike in Paktika province. The two commanders are members of the Badr Mansoor Group. Badr Mansour, the group’s former leader who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012, was identified in the documents seized at Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound as one of al Qaeda’s “company” commanders. Mansour was also a Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen leader. [See LWJ reports, 2 al Qaeda commanders reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan and Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader.]

In December 2013, the US killed two al Qaeda military commanders, three members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and two members of the Afghan Taliban, in an airstrike in the Lal Pur district in Nangarhar. The seven jihadists were reported to be traveling to Kunar for a meeting. [See LWJ report, 2 al Qaeda commanders reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.]

The two al Qaeda commanders 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 killed in December 2013 were all 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.]

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. Most of those raids took place outside of Kunar and Nuristan. [See LWJ report, ISAF raids against al Qaeda and allies in Afghanistan 2007-2013.]

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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  • LLJ says:

    Good New !
    It`s urgent to STOP this “people”.
    And say very loud
    WE “R” NOT AFRAID Of YOU, Bastards !!

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Of all the things atiyah taught him, he omitted the most important one. Poor father figure. Some brother.

  • Arjuna says:

    Can’t say enough good things about NDS performance on this. Good intel on the HVT. Good comms with allies. Way to exploit the target post strike. What’s on the laptop, I wonder. A mother lode, I bet.
    Paki strikes would be a lot more successful if the PakMil/ISI would allow access to sites for exploitation by allied forces. A successful op like this says we should keep the Counter-Terrorism Pursuit Teams up and running in Eastern Afghanistan. Hopefully with the new Afghan leadership, this program will be extended. A similar public-private partnership should be considered for Pakistan.
    If NDS and ISI could ever cooperate on anti-terror ops, we’d have a chance of conclusively destroying AQ in AfPak. Americans could help bridge this gap. ISI needs to get out of the terror business itself first. Full stop.


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