Coalition and Afghan special operations forces yesterday targeted a “senior insurgent leader” with links to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, and “Arabs” operating in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The leader also commands suicide bombers and runs a training camp in an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Special operations forces targeted the leader during a raid yesterday in Nangarhar’s Nazyan district, the International Security Assistance Force announced in a press release. One “insurgent” was killed and two others were wounded during the operation. It is unclear if the leader was among those killed or wounded.
ISAF said the leader has “ties to both the Tehrik-e Taliban [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] and Haqqani terrorist networks.” Both groups are closely allied to al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, and operate from Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The insurgent leader “has control of over 100 fighters, including a significant number of potential suicide bombers,” and “planned multiple high-profile attacks against civilians, government officials, and Afghan and coalition military forces,” ISAF stated.
“He also runs a training camp for indoctrinating prospective insurgents, and is vital in funding TTP and Haqqani operations,” ISAF continued.
“Due to operational security” concerns, ISAF would not tell The Long War Journal if the training camp was in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
In addition to having ties to the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the targeted leader is an Afghan of Pashtun ethnicity and “there are indications of Arab involvement,” ISAF told The Long War Journal. ISAF would not disclose, however, whether the “Arab involvement” was a reference to al Qaeda. Arab foreign fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are often members of al Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network frequently has al Qaeda fighters in its ranks. An Omani al Qaeda operative participated in a Haqqani Network suicide assault on a US base in Khost province in June 2012.
Al Qaeda in Nangarhar
Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Islam, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, and the al Qaeda-linked Hizb-i-Islami Khalis all maintain a presence in Nangarhar province, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The presence of terror cells has been detected in the districts of Achin, Bati Kowt, Behsud, Chaparhar, Dara Noor, Deh Bala, Hisarak, Jalalabad, Khogyani, Nazyan, Pachir wa Agam, Sherzad, Shinwar, and Surkh Rod, or 14 of Nangarhar’s 22 districts.
ISAF has been reporting on the presence of al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar province since April of 2007, when it announced the capture of five “al Qaeda associates” during a raid in the province’s Chaparhar district. Although ISAF has conducted 31 raids against al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar since 2007, the terror group has continued to maintain its operations there.
ISAF reports on al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar often refer to the group’s operations on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, as well as the group’s involvement in suicide operations. Additionally the reports frequently note the al Qaeda operatives’ alliances with the Haqqani Network, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Hizb-i-Islami Khalis. The raids mentioned below are a sampling of the 31 reported raids against the al Qaeda/foreign fighter network in Nangarhar.
For instance, in November 2009, security forces killed several enemy fighters during an operation targeting an al Qaeda operative south of Jalalabad, the provincial capital. The al Qaeda operative was responsible for a “wide range of duties from Sharia interpretation to military training of militants,” according to ISAF.
In August 2010, a Taliban sub-commander who facilitates the movement of “foreign fighters,” a term often used to describe members of al Qaeda, from Pakistan into Nangarhar province was targeted during an airstrike in Deh Bala district. An estimated 12 insurgents were killed during the operation, including Pakistani fighters from Waziristan, and Taliban fighters. Three months later, ISAF captured the top suicide operations facilitator for Nangarhar during an operation in Nangarhar’s Khogyani district. The suicide facilitator worked for al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups, and moved suicide bombers into Afghanistan from Pakistan.
That same year, ISAF conducted two raids against Taliban commanders in Nangarhar who helped Lashkar-a-Taiba fighters enter the province to wage jihad. The Lashkar-a-Taiba is a Pakistan-based jihadist group, that, like the Haqqani Network, is backed by Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Sevices Intelligence Directorate. Lashkar-a-Taiba is closely allied to al Qaeda; in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which borders Nangarhar, the two groups are known to conduct joint operations.
In March 2011, special operations forces targeted a Hizb-i Islami Khalis leader who is affiliated with al Qaeda and facilitates IED and suicide bomber attacks in Nangarhar’s Jalalabad district. That same month, a Haqqani Network leader working for the Taliban and al Qaeda was captured during an operation in the Chaparhar district. The leader commanded approximately 40-50 Taliban fighters within Nangarhar and was involved in the planning of assaults and suicide bombings in the province.
In September 2011, ISAF killed Sabar Lal Melma, a key al Qaeda operative and former Guantanamo detainee, during an operation in Jalalabad district. Melma was responsible for attacks and financing insurgent activity in the Pech district in neighboring Kunar province, another al Qaeda haven. He was in contact with several senior al Qaeda members throughout Kunar and Pakistan.