The Afghan Taliban denied government claims that its shadow governor for the important southeastern province of Ghazni was killed last weekend in an airstrike. Ghazni has served as a haven for the Taliban and its ally, al Qaeda.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of the Interior claimed on June 18 that Mullah Mohammad Qasim and an undisclosed number of fighters were killed in an airstrike in the Aab Band district of Ghazni. The strike also destroyed several vehicles and motorcycles,
“According to MoI [the Ministry of Interior], Mullah Qasim had a major role in terrorist activities in various parts of Ghazni province and his death will have a positive result on security situation of the province,” Khaama Press noted.
The Taliban quickly denied reports of Qasim’s death. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid rejected reports that Qasim was killed, and described the Ministry of Interior’s claim as “the enemy’s propaganda.”
“We strongly reject the enemy’s propaganda. Nothing has happened to our Ghazni governor Mawlawi Mohammad Qasim Samim; he is alive and occupied with his jihadist work,” Mujahid said in an official statement released on Voice of Jihad’s Pashto-language website.
Mujahid said that the Afghan government has repeatedly “spread false rumors of martyrdom of the Islamic Emirate’s provincial and district officials — which, thanks be to God, proved to be wrong.”
Additionally, he discounted government claims that Mullah Rahmatullah Najib (Najibuallah), the shadow governor for Logar province, was killed by Afghan forces last week.
Both Qasim and Najib recently mourned the loss of Mullah Mansour, the Taliban’s previous emir who was killed in a US drone strike in Baluchistan, Pakistan, and swore allegiance to Mullah Haibatullah, the Taliban’s new leader. After Mansour’s death, the Taliban said that the targeting of its top leaders will not deter the group from fighting to achieve its goal of reestablishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Nor would such airstrikes lead it to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the 15 year old conflict.
Ghazni is a key province for both the Taliban and al Qaeda. The province has served as a traditional stronghold for both groups. The Taliban is thought to control at least one district (Nawa) and contests two others (Arjistan and Ghazni), according to data compiled by The Long War Journal.
Osama bin Laden considered Ghazni to be strategic terrain. Ghazni was one of four provinces mentioned by bin Laden for al Qaeda leaders and operatives to relocate to in order to dodge the intensifying US drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas in 2010. Bin Laden suggested that Ghazni, Zabul, Nuristan, and Kunar were well suited for al Qaeda members to shelter due to the strength of the Taliban and the terrain. Several senior and mid-level al Qaeda leaders and operatives were killed in Ghazni after bin Laden made his suggestion. [See LWJ report, Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan.]
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