Al Qaeda’s As Sahab media has released a new video advertising the group’s role in an ambush on an Afghan National Army (ANA) convoy in Paktika province.
The purpose of the video isn’t just to highlight this lone operation, however. Al Qaeda uses the footage to emphasize its alliance with the Taliban.
The production is noteworthy for several reasons. Most importantly, al Qaeda has refrained from publicizing its presence in Afghanistan in recent years, rarely pointing to the presence of its men on the country’s jihadist battlefields. This has been the case despite the fact that al Qaeda is known to operate in Paktika and elsewhere.
Instead, al Qaeda and its regional arm, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), fight under the Taliban’s banner and don’t typically claim operations as their own.
The new video, which was produced by As Sahab’s media arm for the subcontinent, is titled, “Under the Shade of the Islamic Emirate: Paktika – Ambush on the Convoy of Afghan National Army in the Hindi Mountains.” The title is intended to reinforce al Qaeda’s role within the Taliban insurgency, as the jihadists fight together to resurrect the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The video, which contains English subtitles, opens with a narrator claiming that America has been defeated in Afghanistan. “Fifteen years ago from today, if anyone had said that the super power of the time, America, would be defeated in Afghanistan, it would have been hilarious for the world,” the speaker says. “But today it has become a reality.” He claims the Americans, NATO and the ANA are an “army besieged in their bases.” Footage of a Western military commander crying a podium is played during some of this boasting.
The narrator continues: “By the grace of Allah almighty, today the Islamic Emirate has liberated most areas of Afghanistan from American control.”
That is an exaggeration. Even though the Taliban and its jihadist allies contest or control much ground, Afghanistan’s more urban areas are currently under the government’s control. However, the jihadists are circling several provincial capitals, hoping to gain more ground should the US and its western allies withdraw in the coming months.
An ambush in Paktika province
The centerpiece of al Qaeda’s video is footage from an ambush of an ANA convoy in Paktika province. It is not clear when the attack took place, but al Qaeda claims that the government admitted that 30 members of the ANA were killed when their vehicles were pinned down by fire in a valley.
The narrator says the mujahidin have “cleansed a major area” of the Wazikhawa (Wazakhwa) district of Paktika “from the filthy presence of the Americans and their allies.” The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (the Taliban) “gained great victories in this area and besieged the district headquarters” in 2014. He claims that the jihadists have “enforced a continuous blockade,” forcing the “enemy” to “bring its military supplies and even items of food through helicopters.”
One jihadist, identified Abdul Hannan, claims that America doesn’t care about Afghan lives. He says the US “does not consider [the] Afghan National Army anything more than human fuel to carry on its war and to keep its soldiers safe, does not even hesitate to use them as scapegoats!”
The targeted ANA convoy purportedly set out for the district headquarters of Wazikhawa at the “beginning of the winter season.”
“Under the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Ansar and Muhajir Mujahidin decided to lay an ambush for this convoy,” the text on screen reads. (Ansar is a reference to local jihadists, while Muhajir refers to foreign fighters.) “The first stage of the ambush was to choose a suitable place for the attack. After the help of Allah, the success of an ambush depends largely on choosing the right place.”
Another jihadist, identified as Muhammad Farooqi, sets the scene for the attack. “In Guerrilla Warfare, you can lay a successful ambush from a hilltop on the enemy passing below,” Farooqi says. “Between the districts [of] Wazikhawa and Gomal lies the long mountainous range of Hindi, it was the best place to teach this devilish army a lesson.” The area is defined by “barren peaks, dangerous and difficult passages” and “violent winds increase the harshness of these mountains.”
The mujahidin “were only fifteen in number,” Farooqi says, and they were equipped with “only 6 rockets of RR-82 [Recoil Rifle 82mm (Light Cannon)],” “4 rockets of RPG-7,” a “sniper gun,” “Kalashnikovs and PK [light] machine guns.”
As Farooqi speaks, an image (seen above) of jihadists positioned under the banners of al Qaeda and the Taliban is displayed on screen. The graphic reinforces the joint nature of the raid, as well as the partnership between the two.
A member of the raiding party is identified as Yasir Mirza, whose “jihadi name” was “Khalid Qeemti.” He was apparently stationed on a mountainside during the ambush. A brief biography offered by al Qaeda notes that Mirza was from Rawalpindi, Pakistan and he was “killed in [an] American drone strike in Paktika” at some point.
Mirza and his jihadist comrades opened fire on the convoy when it “came close,” with the “first strike” by an “RR-82 rocket” destroying “the enemy’s mine sweeper truck.” The “enemy soldiers panicked and started shooting blindly,” but “mujahidin kept targeting their enemies calmly.” The footage shows that several Humvees were targeted and either destroyed or heavily damaged.
Abdul Hannan then returns to the screen, saying that “due to the limited amount of rockets,” the jihadists “were unable to finish off all of the vehicles.” Al Qaeda uses this line to remind the “Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] and its wealthy people” that it is “their duty” to “aid the Mujahidin with your wealth, your lives and your sincere prayers” during this “confrontation with the Kufr (infidels) of the whole world.”
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
“Under the Shade of the Islamic Emirate” closes with a montage of various Taliban, al Qaeda and AQIS figures. Those seen on screen include Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden sitting with Ayman al Zawahiri, and Mullah Mansour (who succeeded Omar as Taliban leader before being killed in a May 2016 US drone strike).
The words featured on screen during the montage celebrate the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate:
“One home! One body! One soul Emirate! (Of Afghanistan)”
“One voice! One force! One wish! Emirate!”
“One rank! One army! One leader! One path! Emirate!”
“Live! Live! Live! May emirate live!”
“We pray to Allah almighty to strengthen the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and shower the blessings…of Jihad and Sharia in the whole region,” the text reads over images of truck flying a Taliban-style banner.
The video closes with the words: “Shari’ah or Martyrdom.” It is a rallying cry that jihadists throughout the region have adopted.