Afghan intelligence service destroys al Qaeda base in Zabul

The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, recently raided an al Qaeda encampment and killed five Pakistan terrorists in the southeastern province of Zabul.

The operation was executed by special operations forces attached to the National Directorate of Security, or NDS, and took place in the village of Nasiran in the Mizan district in Zabul. The NDS announced the raid against al Qaeda on its Facebook page.

The NDS also captured two jihadists during the raid, in addition to a stockpile of weapons, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenade warheads, ammunition, two suicide vests, communications equipment, computers, and two Pakistani ID cards.

NDS commandos destroyed the al Qaeda base before departing.

US officials have not yet commented on the NDS operation against al Qaeda. The base in Zabul is the fifth such encampment to have been detected in Afghanistan in just over a year.

The US military discovered the first al Qaeda camp in the Barmal district of Paktika province and attacked the encampment in the summer of 2015. Abu Khalil al Sudani, a top al Qaeda’s leader, is thought to have been killed during that raid.

Intelligence from the Barmal operation led US troops to two camps in the Shorabak district in Kandahar. In Oct. 2015, a large US military strike force took four days to clear the two al Qaeda camps in Shorabak. One camp covered more than 30 square miles, and included large caches of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies. An al Qaeda media cell was also based there. [See LWJ reports, US military strikes large al Qaeda training camps in southern Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda’s Kandahar training camp ‘probably the largest’ in Afghan War.]

After the Shorabak raid, General John Campbell, then the commander of Resolute Support, noted that US military and intelligence officials were surprised that the camp even existed.

“It’s a place where you would probably think you wouldn’t have AQ [al Qaeda]. I would agree with that,” Campbell told The Washington Post. “This was really AQIS [al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent], and probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

The US raided another al Qaeda facility in Afghanistan this year. On May 9, US special operations forces rescued Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan’s former prime minister, during a raid against an al Qaeda safe house in Paktika province. Gilani was held by al Qaeda for more than three years. Yesterday, Gilani told Dawn that “al Qaeda Punjab,” or al Qaeda members from Pakistan’s Punjab province, were responsible for kidnapping and holding him in Afghanistan.

The US government and the military has downplayed al Qaeda’s presence for more than six years, despite evidence that al Qaeda has remained entrenched in Afghanistan some 15 years after the 9/11 attacks. Since 2010, US officials claimed that al Qaeda has been “decimated” in Afghanistan and has maintained a consistent minimal presence of 50 to 100 operatives.

In April 2015, Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, was forced to admit that previous long-held estimates on al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan were wrong. Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the top spokesman for Resolute Support, told The Washington Post that al Qaeda has forged close ties to the Taliban and is resurgent in the country.

Additionally, Buchanan told CNN that al Qaeda may have upwards of 300 operatives in the country, “but that number does include other facilitators and sympathizers in their network.” [See LWJ report, US military admits al Qaeda is stronger in Afghanistan than previously estimated.]

Buchanan said the military was forced to revise the estimate upward after the Shorabak raid, where more than 150 al Qaeda were at a single location.

“If you go back to last year, there were a lot of intel estimates that said within Afghanistan al Qaeda probably has 50 to 100 members, but in this one camp we found more than 150,” Buchanan told CNN.

Despite Buchanan’s statements and the presence of al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, the US State Department claimed that al Qaeda was “severely degraded” in its 2016 Country Report on Terrorism.

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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2 Comments

  • Jamie Smith says:

    Though NDS was modeled after the KGB during the Soviet occupation (and still retain some of that thinking), western intelligence agencies have been retooling the group since 2002. They’re an effective agency within their borders and have good depth into the tribal areas.

    In my book, “Gray Work: Confessions of an American Paramilitary Spy” there’s a number of times I discuss working with NDS agents and how impressed I was their professionalism.

    Despite attempts by the government to discredit me (and thus hurt book sales), what we see happening now in southwest Asia, North Africa and the Levant is exactly what we warned the current administration would happen with the present political maneuvers cloaked as a national security strategy.

  • CC says:

    Been to Mizan numerous times. There is a whole ANA Kandak in the district; not sure how much they patrol though. Most of the time they’re sitting in their checkpoints along RTE Chicken, the main road through the district–lots of tertiary roads branch off into gorges and valleys however. Never heard of Nasiran village.

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