Al Qaeda commander believed to be killed in US airstrike

[Note: The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan later confirmed that Qari Yasin was indeed killed in a US airstrike. See Pakistani Taliban confirms senior al Qaeda commander killed in Afghanistan.]

A senior al Qaeda military commander who led numerous attacks in Pakistan has reportedly been killed in a US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan. Qari Muhammad Yasin was listed by the Pakistani government as the 10th Most Wanted terrorist in the country in 2013.

However, Yasin’s death has not been confirmed by the US or jihadists.

Yasin, who has been involved in jihadist operations in the region for at least two decades, was targeted along with a “trainer of suicide bombers” for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan known as Ameen Shah Mehsud and two taliban fighters, Dawn reported. The airstrike reportedly took place in the Laman area of Barmal district in the eastern province of Paktika on March 19.

Neither the US military or al Qaeda or its jihadist allies have confirmed the death of Yasin or Mehsud, the Taliban trainer. Yasin has previously been targeted by the US.

Barmal district, where Yasin was purportedly killed, is a known haven for al Qaeda as well as Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups. The district borders Pakistan’s tribal agency of South Waziristan, which is home to numerous jihadist groups, including the Mehsud faction of the Pakistani Taliban.

Al Qaeda is known to have operated a base in Barmal as recently as the spring of 2016. US Special Operations Forces and Afghan Commandos rescued Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan’s former prime minister, in a joint raid in the Margha area of Barmal in May 2016.

One year prior, in the summer of 2015, the US military raided an al Qaeda encampment in Barmal. Abu Khalil al Sudani, a senior al Qaeda leader, was thought to have been killed during that operation.

Yasin has decades of experience with jihadist factions operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to The Nation, he had worked for Amjad Farooqi, the Pakistani terrorist who engineered two assassination attempts against Musharraf in Dec. 2003 at the behest of al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al Libi. Farooqi is suspected of involvement in other terror attacks as well. Farooqi was a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the Harkat-ul-Ansar and its successor – the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen – as well as Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Yasin’s connections with Farooqi positioned him to become a key leader in what is often described as the Punjabi Taliban, a group of jihadists from various Pakistani terrorists groups that aligned with al Qaeda. The Punjabi Taliban is led by Asmatullah Muawiya, the commander of what Osama bin Laden described as one of several al Qaeda military “companies.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan].

The Punjabi Taliban based its operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas and operated closely with other jihadist factions. By Nov. 2012, Yasin’s unit was operating in Miramshah in North Waziristan, a bastion of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Haqqani Network, according to The Nation.

The Pakistani government has implicated Yasin in numerous attacks, including the Oct. 2009 assault on General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the March 2009 suicide operation that targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. In Dec. 2013, the Pakistani government listed Yasin as the tenth most wanted terrorist in the country, The Nation reported.

The US has been hunting Yasin for at least four years. He has been in the crosshairs of US drones at least once before last weekend. On Nov. 29, 2013, US drones struck a compound in Miramshah. An operative known as Aslam or Yaseem, who was involved in the attack on the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi in May 2011, was reported to have been killed. Days later, The Nation reported that the “Punjabi Taliban” were targeted in the drone strike and Yasin, who is also known as Aslam, was wounded.

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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