During an operation in the northern province of Baghlan on April 3, Afghan and Coalition special operations forces arrested another leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The raid was the 13th operation this year targeting members of the al Qaeda-linked terror group inside Afghanistan. Based on a study by The Long War Journal, ISAF operations to kill or capture high-value targets from the IMU are at their highest frequency in the war.
According to the International Security Assistance Force, the unnamed IMU commander, who was captured in Baghlan’s Burkah district, led a “cell of insurgent fighters” in multiple attacks on both Afghan and Coalition security forces. ISAF would not disclose further information on the fighters in his cell but did tell The Long War Journal that the leader was an Afghan national of Uzbek ethnicity and that “there are indications of Uzbek involvement.” The captured leader is also accused of “training potential fighters in insurgency operations,” and served a key role in IMU intelligence and IED operations in Baghlan province.
Burkah district has been a persistent stronghold for the IMU. So far this year, three other raids have been conducted in the district targeting IMU leadership. The last raid was on Feb. 9, when another IMU leader who oversaw intelligence for the group and provided safe haven for insurgent fighters, including members of the Taliban, was captured.
Kunduz district in the northern province of Kunduz has also seen four raids already this year targeting high value IMU targets. The last reported raid targeting an IMU member in Kunduz province took place on March 25 in the district, and resulted in the capture of an IMU leader.
And in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province, a suicide bombing killed the father and two brothers of the speaker of the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, on March 13. The next day the governor of Kunduz condemned the attack, saying “the attackers come from abroad and it has global roots, so we will be always face these disasters if they are not completely destroyed.”
A few days later, ISAF confirmed to The Long War Journal that on March 15 they had captured an IMU suicide attack coordinator who was behind the Imam Sahib attack. The operative, who was said to have been planning an attack on ANSF forces at the time he was captured, was identified as an Uzbek. As with the April 3 raid, ISAF said of the March 15 raid that “there are indications of Uzbek involvement.”
It is not clear why ISAF has increased efforts against the IMU this year, but it could reflect a more active IMU. Afghan and Coalition forces have been conducting raids against the IMU in north Afghanistan for years, but have been unable to stem their operations.
Background on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a key ally of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and supports operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as plots attacks in Europe. The IMU is known to fight alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has integrated into the Taliban’s shadow government in northern Afghanistan. [For more information on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, see LWJ report, IMU cleric urges Pakistanis to continue sheltering jihadis in Waziristan.]
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters often serve as bodyguards for top Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Apart from its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the IMU has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well. In September 2010, the IMU took credit for an ambush that killed 25 Tajik troops, and also threatened to carry out further attacks in the Central Asian country.
The IMU has claimed credit for numerous suicide assaults in Afghanistan, including the May 19, 2010 attack on the US military airbase in Bagram, the Oct. 15, 2011 assault on the Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Panjshir, and the Oct. 29, 2011 suicide attack that targeted an armored bus in Kabul.
The IMU has been a prime target of special operations forces in Afghanistan. Last year, special operations forces conducted at least 38 raids against the IMU; in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Faryab, Logar, Helmand, Kunduz, Takhar, and Wardak, or eight of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces; according to ISAF press releases compiled by The Long War Journal.
In October 2012, the US Treasury Department added Qari Ayyub Bashir, the “head of finance” for the IMU, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Bashir also serves as a member of the group’s shura, or executive council. Identified as an Uzbek national, Bashir is based out of Mir Ali, in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. As the IMU’s lead financier, he provides financial and “logistical” support for IMU operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and fundraises from outside the region.
Last spring, ISAF killed the two previous IMU leaders for Afghanistan, in raids just a few weeks apart in Faryab province. [See LWJ report, Special operations forces kill newly appointed IMU leader for Afghanistan, for more information.]
Additionally, the US has targeted the IMU’s leaders and network in Pakistan’s tribal areas. US drones have killed the last two emirs of the IMU. On Aug. 4, 2012, the IMU announced that its emir, Abu Usman Adil, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan, and named Usman Ghazi as the new leader of the al Qaeda-linked terror group. Adil had succeeded Tahir Yuldashev, the co-founder of the IMU, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2009.
Adil is credited with increasing the IMU’s profile in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the death of Yuldashev, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Whereas Yuldashev had been content with confining the group’s operations largely to Pakistan’s tribal areas, Adil pushed to expand operations in northern and eastern Afghanistan, as well is in the Central Asian republics.