US service member killed during battle with al Qaeda in Afghanistan

The US military has released a new statement concerning the death of Sgt. Leandro Jasso, an American who perished in Afghanistan on Nov. 24. Sgt. Jasso was killed “while conducting an operation to eliminate al Qaeda militants in Nimroz province.”

The military says an “initial review” has concluded that he “was likely accidentally shot” by partner Afghan forces during a “close-quarter battle” with “multiple barricaded al Qaeda shooters.” At this time, there “are no indications he was shot intentionally.”

Thus far, the US hasn’t provided any more information on al Qaeda’s presence in Nimroz, a remote southwestern province straddling the borders with Iran and Pakistan.

Al Qaeda hasn’t announced its presence in Nimroz either, but this is entirely consistent with the group’s strategy inside Afghanistan.

Although members of Ayman al Zawahiri’s organization, including al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), are embedded within the Taliban-led insurgency, they usually do not publicly advertise their training facilities or participation in operations. Al Qaeda has judged that its men can avoid additional scrutiny if they mask the extent of their warfighting. This is the opposite of the Islamic State’s approach, as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s loyalists regularly produce statements and images concerning their activities in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda’s decision to operate clandestinely in Afghanistan should not be mistaken for evidence that it lacks a significant footprint.

AQIS has explained that its men “are present on the ground under the emirate’s flag,” meaning the Taliban’s banner, and “are actively participating in battles against the enemies of sharia.” The UN has confirmed that “AQIS fighters operate as advisers and trainers of the Taliban.”

And Ayman al Zawahiri has stressed the importance of resurrecting the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, saying that it is the “nucleus” of a new caliphate.

As FDD’s Long War Journal has reported on multiple occasions, the US and its Afghan allies have been hunting al Qaeda throughout the country for years.

For instance, in August, Afghan forces killed seven al Qaeda members in Helmand, where the group has a longstanding presence, and captured five others in Nangarhar.

In April, the US killed a dual-hatted AQIS-Pakistani Taliban commander in Nangarhar.

In early 2017, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) announced that an al Qaeda commander, who was also a leader in Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), had been killed in Ghazni. According to NDS, this same jihadist managed a “terrorist hub” on behalf of al Qaeda in Kabul province.

In Dec. 2016, the US military confirmed that 250 al Qaeda operatives had been killed or captured since the beginning of the year.

Just days before the 2016 presidential election, in late Oct. 2016, the US killed Faruq al-Qatani in Kunar province. Qatani was a senior al Qaeda leader who oversaw the relocation of jihadists from northern Pakistan to Afghanistan circa 2010. While supporting the Taliban’s insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, Qatani was also involved in planning attacks against the US and the West.

In Sept. 2016, the US military said that it was hunting al Qaeda members and leaders in at least seven Afghan provinces. General John W. Nicholson Jr., who led NATO’s Resolute Support and US Forces Afghanistan at the time, specifically listed the provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Paktika, Ghazni, Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar.

The US and its Afghan allies raided two large al Qaeda training camps in the Shorabak district of Kandahar province in Oct. One of the two camps was approximately 30-square-miles in size, according to US military officials, making it likely the largest al Qaeda training facility discovered since 2001.

The examples above, as well as additional reports, illustrate that al Qaeda continues to operate throughout much Afghanistan. Other al Qaeda-affiliated groups, such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, take part in the fighting as well.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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2 Comments

  • GIJOE says:

    Thank you for explaining that those in various militant organizations do not always advertise their identities or affiliations. All too often, people who have fled the grasp or threats by them have tried to explain this to state workers evaluating whether they should have protection as asylum-seekers and denied protection – considered “not credible” because they did not know which organization, precisely, it was that sent men to their homes or employers with clear consequences for failing to comply with their demands. While it becomes clear to those who are not biased against treating someone as a refugee (versus someone seeking that status) that many have had direct threats from militants – we need research and data to back up our observations. With this article, you’ve described another important aspect of the war.

  • S R says:

    The US is talking to the Taliban, and the west and the media and press are constantly begging the Taliban to have peace talks with the Afghan government, despite the Taliban and Al-Qaeda being conjoined twins. The west, the media and the press ignore and don’t report the fact that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are conjoined twins. What happened to GWB’s words of “We don’t talk/negotiate with the terrorists” and “You are either with us or against us”. What a humiliation for the US and the west.

    Also, the Taliban have made it very clear what they think of the Afghan government, the Taliban have made it very clear that they will never ever talk to the Afghan government, and the Taliban have made it very clear that their talks with the US and others is mainly about the US and NATO peacefully exiting Afghanistan so the Taliban can re-establish their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and they have made it very clear that if the US and NATO don’t want to peacefully exit Afghanistan, then they will kick out the US and NATO from Afghanistan no matter how long it takes.

    Unless the US wants to talk to the Taliban (and Al-Qaeda) to peacefully exit Afghanistan so the Taliban can re-establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the US is making a big mistake and wasting their time.

    Also, Obama made a big mistake in removing the terrorist designation from the Taliban. The Trump admin should stop talking to the Taliban, and Trump should undo Obama’s mistake by re-designating the Taliban as a terrorist organisation.

    RS/NATO, the Afghan government and the ANDSF should adopt this strategy: Instead of the ANDSF always being on the defense, the Afghan police should be given the responsibility to defend, while the ANA and the ASF should go on a nation-wide, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, offensive against the Taliban. This strategy covers both the offensive and defensive aspects.

    The Taliban are always on the offense while the ANDSF are always on the defense. Right now the ANDSF are sitting like ducks waiting to be attacked, killed and looted by the Taliban. The ANA and ASF need to take the fight to the Taliban. The ANA and ASF are a huge disappointment.

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