US and Afghan forces are reported to have targeted a group of leaders and operatives from the Pakistan-based Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan, the Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda, according to reports from the region. At least one senior leader, known as Azam Tariq, is thought to have been killed in the strike.
The airstrike took place in the Laman area of the eastern Afghan province of Paktika on Sept. 24, according to RFE/RL.
Tariq, a former spokesman in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, his son, and two additional leaders from his group were killed along with three unidentified al Qaeda leaders and six operatives, Afghan officials told RFE/RL. The governor of Paktika also said that Haqqani Network members were present during the airstrike.
Paktika: Jihadist haven
The Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan and al Qaeda are known to have a presence in Paktika province. Paktika abuts the Pakistani tribal agency of South Waziristan, and jihadists move freely across the unmonitored border.
The US hit the Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan in an airstrike in Paktika in February 2016; 18 of its fighters are reported to have been killed.
The Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan is a breakaway faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Its leader, Sajna Mehsud, a.k.a. Khan Said, is listed by the US government as a specially designated global terrorists. His forces are known to wage jihad in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. US intelligence officials who track the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region have told The Long War Journal in 2015 that Sajna remains a close ally of al Qaeda. [See LWJ report, US strikes Pakistani Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan.]
The presence of Sajna’s forces in eastern Paktika is not surprising, as multiple Taliban factions – including the Haqqani Network and al Qaeda – are known to operate there.
Al Qaeda, which is a close ally of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban faction that is entrenched in Paktika, is also known to operate in the province. Just two days ago, General John Nicholson, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that the US military is hunting al Qaeda in Paktika and six other provinces in Afghanistan.
In the summer of 2015, two senior al Qaeda leaders were killed by the US in airstrikes in Paktika’s Gomal and Bermal districts.
At the end of July 2015, the US killed Abu Khalil al Sudani, a senior al Qaeda leader who took direction from Ayman al Zawahiri, in an airstrike in Paktika’s Bermal district. Sudani had a hand in al Qaeda’s external operations network, which plots attacks against the US and the West. On Sept. 14, 2015, Afghan intelligence said that it killed an al Qaeda commander known as as Khuram in the Gomal district.
Additionally, al Qaeda is known to have operated a camp in Bermal during the summer of 2015. The raid on the Bermal camp gave the US information on the existence of two other al Qaeda training camps in the Shorabak district in Kandahar province, the outgoing commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, told The Washington Post last year.
US and Afghan special operations forces rescued Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan’s former prime minister, in a joint raid in May 2016 in Paktika province. Gilani later told reporters that he was held by al Qaeda.