US military kills ‘dual-hatted’ AQIS leader in eastern Afghanistan

Footage of the strike that killed AQIS and TTP leader Hazrat Abbas. [DVIDS]

The US military confirmed that it killed al Qaeda leader Hazrat Abbas and his bodyguard in an airstrike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar late last month. Abbas served as a senior commander for both al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP).

Abbas was killed in an airstrike in Sherzad district in Nangahar province on April 23, Resolute Support – NATO’s command in Afghanistan – announced yesterday. He was described as “a senior AQIS and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander” who “controlled fighting forces in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

“Abbas’ forces were responsible for numerous attacks and kidnappings on both sides of the border,” Resolute Support noted.

Abbas is what the US military refers to as one of the “dual hatted” jihadist commanders. The US military has targeted numerous multi-role al Qaeda and Taliban leaders over the past decade.

Resolute Support properly identified the inter-connectiveness between al Qaeda, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, and a host of other terror organizations operating in the region.

“Abbas’ integration and command of multiple organizations highlights the relationships between terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and the surrounding region, specifically how regional terrorist groups shelter and facilitate global threat networks,” NATO command concluded.

AQIS, which was formed in 2014 by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and his son-in-law, Uthamn Basha, serves as bridge between a host of jihadist groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indian, Burma, and Bangladesh. Basha was killed in a drone strike in 2015.

“One of the most important works he [Basha] participated in, with the supervision and encouragement of the aforementioned Sheikhs, was uniting several jihadi groups belonging to the Indian Subcontinent,” Zawahiri said in a statement that eulogized his son-in law in early 2017.

Zawahiri noted that AQIS fights “under the banner of the Islamic Emirate,” or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name the Taliban has given to itself.

“Allah guided him [Basha] to avail his old relationships that had been formed with the Mujahideen of the Subcontinent in training camps and fronts,” Zawahiri continued in his eulogy. “Allah had given him popularity amongst them, so he directed his efforts to unite these different groups in a single organization, and thus, with the blessing and favor of Allah, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was formed, under the banner of the Islamic Emirate.”

Zahahiri publicly swore allegiance to the Taliban’s previous two emirs, and AQIS’s code of conduct says its members are currently fighting “shoulder-to-shoulder with the mujahideen” of the Taliban and calls on Muslims throughout the subcontinent to join or support the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

The al Qaeda-TTP relationship is also well-documented. Files seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, shows al Qaeda leaders asserting their authority over the leader of the TTP and helping the group write its charter.

AQIS continues to fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, and its presence in the country has been underestimated by US political leaders and military and intelligence officials for nearly a decade. Between 2010 and 2015, US officials consistently claimed that al Qaeda had only 50 to 100 fighters in Afghanistan and was confined to the northeastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. This estimate was proven wildly inaccurate when in Oct. 2015 US forces killed more than 200 al Qaeda operatives in an attack on two al Qaeda training camps in the southern province of Kandahar.

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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