Taliban secured release of wife of senior AQIS leader

The wife of Asim Umar, a senior leader of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent who was killed during a raid in a Taliban stronghold last fall, was among the 5,000 prisoners released by the Afghan government.

The Taliban demanded and secured her released.

Umar’s wife, who was not named, and two other foreign women who were also released, are “very important,” a Taliban source told Afghan Islamic Press, a news agency sympathetic to the Taliban and maintains close connections with Taliban commanders.

The three women were among 200 prisoners freed by the Afghan government, Afghan Islamic Press reported on Sept. 2. Two of the women who were released were Bangladeshi and one was Pakistani.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) reported that Umar’s wife was among six Pakistani women captured during the Sept. 23, 2019 raid in the district of Musa Qala in Helmand province. Musa Qala is a known stronghold for the Taliban. Several Taliban commanders were killed alongside Umar and other AQIS commanders. Among those killed were Umar’s courier to Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri; the AQIS chief for Helmand and an ‘explosives expert;’ the deputy AQIS leader for Helmand; and the Taliban’s military commander for the neighboring Naw Zad district.

The NDS initially identified Umar as the emir of AQIS, however there is evidence that Usama Mahmood, his former spokesman, is now the leader of the Al Qaeda branch. 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 was clearly in the top echelon of AQIS as he retained a courier to communicate directly with Zawahiri, and may have held a senior position within Al Qaeda’s general command.

The Taliban’s demand of the release of Umar’s wife is curious, as the group maintains that Al Qaeda does not have a presence in Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban denies that any foreigners are fighting in Afghanistan.

The Taliban is of course lying about the presence of Al Qaeda and foreign fighters in Afghanistan. It does so because it wants the U.S to leave Afghanistan, and as part of the U.S.-Taliban withdrawal deal, the Taliban cannot host Al Qaeda and other foreign terror groups.

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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