The Taliban announced today that the US killed Mullah Abdul Salam, its shadow governor for the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, in an airstrike on Feb. 26. Salam led Taliban forces in overrunning Kunduz City and holding the provincial capital for two weeks in 2015. His forces also entered Kunduz City and held large areas of it for nine days in 2016.
“The governor for Kunduz of the Islamic Emirate, the sincere and devout individual, Al-Haj Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund was martyred by a cowardly airstrike of the invading American infidels on 26/02/2017 in Dasht-i-Archi district of Kunduz province,” the Taliban noted in a statement that was released on its official website, Voice of Jihad.
The Taliban described Salam as the “liberator of Kunduz” and said he had “trained thousands of Mujahideen such that they will follow his path.”
Dasht-i-Archi, the district where Salam was killed, is heavily contested by the Taliban. Only four days ago, the Taliban claimed it shot down an Afghan military attack helicopter. The Afghan Ministry of Defense claims the helicopter landed due to technical problems. Unable to recover the helicopter, the military destroyed it in an airstrike.
Salam was one of the Taliban’s most important and influential shadow governors. He was one of several Taliban shadow governors who were detained by Pakistani security services in early 2010. He was later released and returned to Afghanistan and resumed his role as the Taliban’s governor for Kunduz.
As shadow governor for Kunduz, Salam has succeeded in making the province one of the most unstable in all of Afghanistan. For the past three years, all seven districts in Kunduz have been contested or controlled by the Taliban, according to a study by FDD’s Long War Journal.
Salam engineered what is perhaps the most successful large-scale Taliban military operation in Afghanistan since the Islamic Emirate was driven from power by the US in 2001. In late Sept. 2015, his fighters overran Kunduz City and held it for two weeks before being driven out by Afghan forces backed by US airpower and special operations forces. Salam organized a second push to retake Kunduz City in Oct. 2015, and his fighters made it to the center of the provincial capital and controlled a large portion of the city for nine days.
Kunduz City is the only major Afghan city to fall to the Taliban since US forces entered the country in 2001.
The Taliban claims it operates a training camp in Kunduz. In the summer of 2016, the Taliban released a propaganda video of its Omar ibn Khattab training facility. Salam also appeared in the video.
Additionally, Salam has been a key figure in the Afghan north and has kept his forces loyal during difficult leadership changes. After the Taliban announced the death of Mullah Omar, the founder and first emir of the Taliban, in 2015, Salam held a large rally and swore allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. The move was controversial since the Taliban hid Omar’s death for more than two years. And after the US killed Mansour in May 2016, Salam again pledged to his successor, Mullah Haibitullah.
Salam was rewarded for his loyalty and effectiveness on the battlefield. When Taliban emir Mullah Haibitullah replaced 24 of the Taliban’s 34 shadow governors earlier this year, Salam retained his post.
Salam has been in the crosshairs of the US and Afghan intelligence for at least three years. After Salam’s forces overran Kunduz City for the first time, he was targeted in at least three airstrikes, according to Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Intelligence. On Oct. 1, 2015, the NDS claimed it killed Salam along with a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative known as Faris. Salam promptly denied reports of his death and issued an audio tape to prove it. Afghan officials also claimed to have killed Salam in Oct. 2016, but the Taliban again denied the reports.