Afghan Air Force kills 15 Al Qaeda operatives in Helmand

The Afghan Air Force killed 15 Al Qaeda operatives who were fighting alongside the Taliban in two airstrikes in the embattled southern province of Helmand over the past several days. The strikes took place after the Taliban yet again promised that it would not permit Al Qaeda to used Afghan soil to launch attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

The Taliban made the same promise prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

The Taliban maintains this lie because the Feb. 29, 2020 agreement with the United States stipulates that Al Qaeda cannot plot attacks against the West. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to withdrawal all forces by April 2021.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MoDA) announced two airstrikes in Nawa, a contested district in Helmand, one on Dec. 26 and another on Dec. 27. The Dec. 26 strike “killed 4 Al-Qaeda & 15 Taliban fighters” who were deploying roadside bombs, or IEDs, in the district, according to the MoDA.

The Dec. 27 strike killed 11 Al Qaeda operatives and two Taliban “senior members,” the MoDA reported. The Al Qaeda operatives trained the Taliban in Helmand to manufacture roadside bombs in the province.

“Massoud Ahmad who was the facilitator for [Al Qaeda] fighters in Helmand is among those killed by the [Dec. 27] airstrikes,” MoDA noted.

Al Qaeda is known to support the Taliban’s operations throughout Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s security forces have been targeting Al Qaeda fighters in southern and western Afghanistan as the Taliban has stepped up its offensive there. In early December, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) killed eight Al Qaeda fighters and captured three more during raids in Helmand and Nimroz province. [See LWJ report, U.S. and Afghan forces target Al Qaeda in the south.]

The U.S. military and Afghan security forces have killed three senior Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan over the past 15 months. All three were killed while sheltering with the Taliban in areas under Taliban control. The U.S. military killed Asim Umar, the head of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, in the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in Helmand province on Sept. 23, 2019. Several Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were killed alongside Umar, including Ayman al Zawahiri’s courier. The U.S. military killed Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, a veteran Al Qaeda leader who served as the group’s media chief, in a raid in Ghazni in Oct. 2020. The NDS killed Mohammad Hanif, another veteran jihadist who once served as the deputy emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, during a raid in Farah province.

Despite the repeated raids that have killed or captured senior, mid, and low-level Al Qaeda operatives throughout Afghanistan, the Taliban has somehow still denied that Al Qaeda or any foreign fighters have a presence in Afghanistan.

Instead, the Taliban claims that Al Qaeda left Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in the fall of 2001. [See LWJ reports, Taliban falsely claims al Qaeda doesn’t exist in Afghanistan and Analysis: Taliban again denies presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan.]

A hollow promise

As the Taliban continues to lie about Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan, it also incorrectly maintains that it won’t allow any foreign fighters who are in the country to use Afghan soil to launch attacks against the U.S. and its allies. Maulvi Abdul Hakeem Sharee, a member of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura – the group’s top leadership council – and the Taliban’s top sharia official, issued a statement in Pashto that outlined the Taliban’s position on foreign fighters.

“We have not promised to hand over any Muslim to them [the U.S.],” Sharee said, referring to the Feb. 29, 2020 agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban. “But it is binding on us not to give them space.”

“This agreement is based on expediency as its advantages outweigh its disadvantages.”

Sharee’s promise is hollow, as the Taliban made the same claim prior to 9/11, and yet permitted Al Qaeda to hijack airplanes and attack the U.S. [See LWJ report, Why the Taliban should be required to renounce al Qaeda in any deal with US.]

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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