Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security claims it has confirmed that Asim Umar, the emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, was killed during a well-publicized Sept. 23 raid in Helmand province. For proof, the NDS released side-by-side photographs of what it claims to be Umar, both dead and alive.
Al Qaeda has not confirmed the death of Umar, nor has it released a martyrdom statement. The US government and military has also not released an official statement announcing Umar’s death.
The Taliban has called the NDS claim “a part of enemy fabricated propaganda,” and said only civilians were killed in Musa Qala. The Taliban issued a similar statement when U.S. and Afghan forces raided two al Qaeda training camps in Shorabak, Kandahar in 2015. However, the Taliban has a vested interest in hiding its ties with al Qaeda.
Other key AQIS leaders, including Umar’s courier to Ayman al Zawahiri – as well as Taliban members and civilians – were also killed during the fighting. Umar’s wife is among those said to have been captured.
According to the NDS’ official Twitter account, it said it “can now confirm the death” Umar, who it identified as “the leader of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent,” during the controversial raid in the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in Helmand.
While the NDS claims that Umar was the emir of AQIS, there is evidence that Usama Mahmood, his former spokesman, is now the leader of al Qaeda’s branch in the Indian Subcontinent. Mahmood has been identified as the “commander” of AQIS. [See LWJ reports, Senior al Qaeda official praises Taliban’s ‘victory’ in Afghanistan and Analysis: Al Qaeda eulogizes Zakir Musa, as his successor is named.]
Regardless, Umar is clearly in the top echelon of AQIS as he retained a courier to communicate directly with al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.
Umar was not initially reported killed in the Sept. 23 raid in Musa Qala, although he was identified as the target of the raid. The NDS initially reported that 17 terrorists were killed, including Raihan, Umar’s courier to Zawahiri; Faizani, the AQIS chief for Helmand and an ‘explosives expert;’ Madani, Faizani’s deputy; and Haji Mahmood, the Taliban’s military commander for the neighboring Naw Zad district. The six AQIS members who were killed came from the Pakistan’s “Waziristan, Chaman, and Peshawar.”
Umar’s wife was identified as one of six Pakistani women detained during the operation. Fourteen “terrorists” were also captured.
The raid against AQIS in Musla Qala only came to the attention of the press after it was reported that scores of civilians were killed during the operations. Although accounts are chaotic, it appears that the bulk of the civilians who were killed were traveling in a wedding party in the district.
The Afghan raid against AQIS highlights the enduring relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda. AQIS could not operate in a Taliban bastion such as Musa Qala without the explicit permission of the Taliban. Indeed, the NDS described Umar’s AQIS command cell as “embedded within a Taliban unit.”