Al Qaeda commander reported killed in northeastern Afghanistan

An al Qaeda commander and two of his bodyguards are reported to have been killed in a US airstrike in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar, which remains a haven for the jihadist group and its allies in the region.

The US purportedly killed Bilal al Tayibin, who has also been referred to as Bilal al Naiby, in a “drone strike” on the evening of Oct. 29 in Darin in Kunar’s Ghaziabad district, the province’s police chief claimed. Two of Tayibin’s Afghan bodyguards are also said to have been killed in the attack, according to Afghan Islamic Press.

Tayibin’s exact position within al Qaeda’s hierarchy is not clear. Pajhwok Afghan News described him as “a key Al Qaeda member.” He is “allegedly an Arab,” TOLONews reported. Arab members of al Qaeda based in Afghanistan often hold senior positions within the group, although givenĀ US targeting al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past decade, commanders from Pakistan and Afghanistan have often filled command postings.

Al Qaeda has not commented on the reports and the US military has not stated whether it conducted an airstrike in Kunar that killed an al Qaeda leader. The US military ceased its daily operational reporting on raids that targeted al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan in June 2013.

The US is also thought to have conducted an airstrike in the Shigal district that killed two Pakistani Taliban fighters late Saturday light. One of the Pakistanis is thought to have been a leader in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, however his name was not disclosed.

The rugged, remote Afghan province of Kunar has served as a sanctuary for al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and allied jihadist groups since the US invaded the country in 2001. 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 the now-disbanded International Security Assistance Force that have been compiled by The Long War Journal. [See LWJ report, ISAF raids against al Qaeda and allies in Afghanistan 2007-2013.]

Numerous al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders have been killed in those raids, particularly from 2010 to 2012 [see list below]. Among those are Sakhr al Taifi, a Saudi national who served as al Qaeda’s second in command in Afghanistan; Abu Hafs al Najdi, another Saudi al Qaeda leader who was ISAF’s number two target; and Mufti Assad, al Qaeda’s emir for Kunar, and his deputy, Yusuf.

Osama bin Laden mentioned that both Kunar and Ghazni provinces are ideal fallback positions for al Qaeda operatives seeking to escape the US drone strikes in North and South Waziristan, according to one of the documents seized from his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and released to the public.

Al Qaeda has not been confined to Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province, as US military and Obama administration officials have claimed over the past several years. To highlight this point, the US raided two significant al Qaeda training camps in Kandahar earlier this month, and another facility in Paktika in July. Al Qaeda is also thought to operate camps in Helmand province.

Senior Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders killed in Kunar, 2010-2012

September 2012
Abdul Rauf, an al Qaeda facilitator from Pakistan, was killed in by an airstrike in Marawarah district, Kunar province. Rauf, who is also known as Iftikhar, coordinated the movement of foreign fighters into Afghanistan and constructed IEDs for attacks.

September 2012
Asadullah, an al Qaeda facilitator, was killed during an airstrike in Asadabad district, Kunar province. He supported the operations of terrorist networks and organized and conducted attacks in the Watahpur Valley. He is believed to be behind an Aug. 8 suicide attack that killed the command sergeant major for the 4th BCT, 4th Infantry Division, two majors, and a USAID employee. Asadullah was an Afghan Pashtun.

September 2012
Abu Saif, an al Qaeda operative who served as a cross-border facilitator was killed along with three other al Qaeda operatives in an airstrike in Watahpur district, Kunar province. Saif, who is also know as Haidar Baba, was a conduit between senior al Qaeda leaders, carrying messages between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was also involved in moving al Qaeda media operations into Afghanistan. Of the four individuals killed, three, including Saif, were Pakistanis and the fourth was an al Qaeda-affiliated Saudi. Saif had worked with al Qaeda leaders Yusuf, Mufti Assad, and Hanzallah, all killed in previous strikes in Kunar province.

August 2012
Abu Walid, a Saudi al Qaeda leader also known as Amru Mastur al-Ghamrawi, was killed during an airstrike in Watahpur district, Kunar province. Walid was an IED expert who trained Taliban insurgents in IED construction and participated in numerous attacks, particularly in Waygal district, Nuristan province. Fatah Gul, an Afghan national and al Qaeda facilitator who provided safe haven to al Qaeda affiliated terrorists operating in eastern Afghanistan, was also killed in the airstrike. Gul, also known as Inzir and Shahid, also ran IED training camps.

August 2012
Mufti Assad, al Qaeda’s emir for Kunar, and his deputy, Yusuf, were killed in an airstrike in Watahpur district, Kunar province. Assad, also known as Mufti Punjabi, Abdul, Abdul Qudus, and Sufyan, led dozens of al Qaeda affiliated fighters in eastern Afghanistan and coordinated attacks across the region. He also served as an explosives expert who trained insurgents on how to build and use IEDs. Yusuf, also known as Omar and Rayhman, was an IED expert who directed attacks thoughout eastern Afghanistan. Both men were Pakistani citizens.

July 2012
Hanzallah, a Saudi national and al Qaeda leader who acted as a military advisor to insurgents in Kunar, Nuristan and Laghman provinces and provided them with improvised explosive device training, was killed in an airstrike in Watahpur district, Kunar province. Several unnamed al Qaeda operates were also killed.

July 2012
Khatab Shafiq, a Pakistani citizen, and Ammar, both leaders of the al Qaeda linked Lashkar-e-Taiba, were killed following an ISAF airstrike in Watahpur district, Kunar province. Shafiq was identified as being responsible for several attacks as well as providing money, weapons, and training within several training camps he established throughout eastern Afghanistan. Ammar managed a network of insurgents and directed attacks. Several other unnamed insurgents were killed in the strike.

May 2012
Sakhr al Taifi, a Saudi national who serves as al Qaeda’s second in command in Afghanistan, was killed in an airstrike in Watahpur district, Kunar province. Taifi is known to have traveled between Afghanistan and Pakistan carrying out commands for senior al Qaeda leaders and providing weapons and equipment to insurgents based in eastern Afghanistan.

September 2011
Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi, a senior al Qaeda commander, was killed during an airstrike on a remote compound in the Korengal Valley, Pech district, Kunar province. Al Qurayshi coordinated attacks by a group of Arab fighters in Kunar and Nuristan province. He routinely facilitated the travel of foreign fighters into the region and he worked with al Qaeda facilitators and extremists throughout the Middle East. Additionaly, Abu Atta al Kuwaiti, an al Qaeda explosives expert, and Sa’ad Mohammad al Shahri, an al Qaeda operative wanted by the Saudi government, and several Arabic foreign fighters are believed to have been killed during the strike.

April 2011
Abu Hafs al Najdi, a senior al Qaeda leader who was ISAF’s number two target in Afghanistan, was killed during an airstrike in Dangam district, Kunar province. Najdi, also known as Abdul Ghani and whose real name is Saleh Naiv Almakhlvi Day, was a Saudi national who was number 23 on the Saudi’s most wanted list. He served as al Qaeda’s operations chief for Kunar province and travelled frequently between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As operations chief he was responsible establishing insurgent camps and training sites throughout the province, recruiting and training new fighters, obtaining weapons and equipment, organizing al Qaeda finances, and planning attacks. Najdi was meeting with a senior al Qaeda operative named Waqas when they were both killed. An unspecified number of other operatives were killed during the airstrike.

January 2010
Qari Masiullah, al Qaeda’s chief of security for Kunar province, was killed during an operation in the province. Masiullah ran a camp that trained insurgents on the use and emplacement of IEDs against Afghan civilians and security forces throughout Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar, and Laghman provinces.

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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