Afghan military kills 31 AQIS fighters in Ghazni

Despite repeated claims to the contrary, al Qaeda has not been defeated in Afghanistan – and it still continues to operate alongside its longtime ally, the Taliban.

The Afghan military reported that it killed 31 members of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent [AQIS], including nine suicide bombers, during recent airstrikes in Ghazni province. Ghazni has long been a haven for al Qaeda. It was one of four provinces recommended by Osama bin Laden for its commanders and families to seek shelter during the height of the US drone campaign in Pakistan a decade ago.

The airstrikes targeted a compound in the district of Giro that was run by AQIS commander Qari Arif, Khaama Press reported. Giro is one of many districts in Ghazni contested by the Taliban, according to a study by FDD’s Long War Journal.

Put simply, AQIS could not operate in Giro without the Taliban’s express permission and support.

FDD’s Long War Journal can trace al Qaeda activities in Ghazni back to 2008. That year, the US military conducted multiple operations against the terror group. That same year, Afghan police captured Aafia Siddiqui, who is better known as “Lady al Qaeda,” as she was drawing a map outside of the governor’s compound. She had plans for making explosives, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as locations in the US to conduct attacks.

Before the current airstrikes in Giro, al Qaeda activity in Ghazni has been reported as recently as Aug. 2018, during the Taliban’s assault on Ghazni City, the provincial capital. At the time, the Afghan Minister of Defense said that Pakistani, Chechen and Arab foreign fighters were fighting alongside the Taliban and some were killed.

The month prior, the United Nations said that al Qaeda and Taliban are “closely allied” and al Qaeda’s “alliance with the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan remains firm.” In that same report, Ghazni was listed as one of several provinces where al Qaeda operates.

Over the last several years, US and Afghan forces have has killed two senior al Qaeda leaders. In Feb. 2017, Afghan troops killed Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a senior al Qaeda leader who also doubled as the emir for Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), a Pakistan-based terror group. Later that year, in Dec. 2017, the US killed Omar Khetab (a.k.a. Omar Mansour), the “second senior leader” in AQIS, al Qaeda’s regional branch.

Ghazni is merely one of 13 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces where FDD’s Long War Journal has detected an overt al Qaeda presence. However, based on past history, al Qaeda is likely to operate in a dozen more provinces. See LWJ reports, Taliban continues to host foreign terrorist groups, despite assurances to the contrary and UN: Al Qaeda continues to view Afghanistan as a ‘safe haven’.

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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