Sunday, September 19, 2010

No al Qaeda in Afghanistan?

An interesting article from the Longwar Journal (September 18, 2010). This is not too much of a stretch to believe since Kunar and Nuristan Provinces are so close to the Bajur in the FATA. Keep in mind that we pulled out of Nuristan last year when 8 our troops were killed at the remote outpost attack in 2009. How is SecDef Gates claiming progress when we are ceding entire provinces to the Taliban and al Qaeda?

A Taliban commander with links to al Qaeda was killed while plotting to attack a polling station in the northeastern province of Kunar today. Haji Mohammad, the Taliban's shadow governor for the district of Shigal, was killed by Coalition forces "in a precision airstrike," the International Security Assistance Force stated.

Mohammed was described as "a key insurgent leader" in Kunar who was behind multiple attacks against US and Afghan forces. "Mohammad orchestrated attacks on Afghans who opposed his tactics, conducted illegal checkpoints intended to intimidate local Afghans, and kidnapped wealthy individuals in order to finance his activities," ISAF said.

ISAF linked Mohammed to two attacks in June, both which killed US soldiers: the June 7 IED attack that killed five US soldiers; and the June 21 suicide attack that killed two US soldiers and wounded 18 Afghans, including eight children.

The suicide attack on June 21 was the first in Afghanistan to have been carried out by a woman. ISAF directly linked the June 21 suicide attack to Qai Zia Rahman, one of the senior most terrorist leaders in northeastern Afghanistan. Qari Zia took credit for the suicide attack.

Qari Zia Rahman is the Taliban's top regional commander as well as a senior member of al Qaeda. He operates in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province in Afghanistan, and he also operates across the border in Pakistan's tribal agency of Bajaur. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government claimed they killed Qari Zia in an airstrike, but he later spoke to the media and mocked Pakistan's interior minister for wrongly reporting his death.

Qari Zia is closely allied with Faqir Mohammed as well as with Osama bin Laden. Qari Zia's fighters are from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and various Arab nations. He commands a brigade in al Qaeda's paramilitary Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

The US has targeted Qari Zai in three raids over the past summer. On June 29, the US launched a battalion-sized operation in Kunar's Marawara district. Move than 150 Taliban fighters were reported killed in the operation. On July 20, US and Afghan forces launched another battalion-sized operation in Marawara to flush out Qari Zia. And on Aug. 2, combined forces conducted a raid, again in Marawara, that targeted the al Qaeda leader.

The top al Qaeda commander in Kunar province is Abu Ikhlas al Masri, an Egyptian who has spent years in Afghanistan and has intermarried with the local tribes. Abu Ikhlas is al Qaeda's operations chief for Kunar province, having assumed command after Abu Ubaidah al Masri was promoted to take over al Qaeda's external operations branch (Abu Ubaidah died in early 2008 of a disease).

Kunar province is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Dangam, Asmar, Asadabad, Shigal, and Marawana; or eight of Kunar's 12districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

ISAF has ceded ground to al Qaeda and the Taliban over the past year when it withdrew from outposts in remote districts in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan as part of its population-centric counterinsurgency strategy. The Taliban and al Qaeda have taken advantage of these new safe havens to strike at neighboring districts and provinces.


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