Coalition and Afghan special operations forces killed an “insurgent leader” linked to both al Qaeda and the Taliban in an airstrike in Afghanistan’s remote eastern province of Nuristan yesterday.
The International Security Assistance Force identified the insurgent leader as “Musa, also known as Baitullah and Qalam,” according to the press release.
“Musa was associated with both al Qaeda and Taliban forces operating in Waygal district,” ISAF stated. “He coordinated insurgent activities and funneled money to them for use in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.”
Musa and an “armed group of insurgents” were targeted in an airstrike in Nuristan’s Waygal district. ISAF confirmed that Musa and “numerous other insurgents” were killed in the airstrike, and said that no civilians were killed during the operation.
Yesterday’s strike marks the second time in the past two months that the US has conducted an airstrike that targeted and killed an al Qaeda-linked insurgent leader in Nuristan. The US killed Jamil ur Rahman, the Taliban’s deputy shadow governor, in an airstrike in Waygal on May 23. The Taliban confirmed his death two days later.
Dost Mohammed, the Taliban’s shadow governor of Nuristan, is one of the most wanted Taliban commanders in Afghanistan. He has organized massed assaults on US bases in the province and bolstered his forces with al Qaeda and Pakistani terror groups. In one such attack, on Camp Keating in October 2009, Dost’s fighters, backed by al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, overran a portion of the base and killed nine US soldiers. In another attack, in July 2008 in the town of Wanat in Waygal, nine US soldiers were killed after their base was nearly overrun.
Nuristan serves as a safe haven for al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and other regional terror groups. In October 2010, just six months before his death in a US special operations raid, Osama bin Laden ordered the relocation of hundreds of al Qaeda’s key personnel from North and South Waziristan to Kunar and Nuristan provinces to avoid US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
In a document that was seized from his compound and later declassified and released, Bin Laden said the Kunar and Nuristan area is “more fortified due to its rougher terrain and the many mountains, rivers, and trees and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy.” He added, “This will defend the brothers from the aircrafts, but will not defend them from the traitors.”
In September 2011, Governor Nuristani said that six of the eight districts in his province, including Waygal, were effectively under Taliban control [see LWJ report, Governor: Most of Nuristan under Taliban control]. Much of Nuristan is still either under Taliban control or is contested.
The Afghan government and the Coalition have given up on waging counterinsurgency operations in Nuristan and Kunar. The US military has withdrawn from several combat outposts in the rugged, remote provinces. Instead, conventional and special operations forces are launching periodic sweeps to cull the Taliban forces, or “mowing the grass,” as a senior US general described it in April 2011.
The US is temporarily sending in a battalion of troops back into Nuristan to reestablish outposts in the province. The battalion of soldiers will be withdrawn in October and will not be replaced [see Threat Matrix report, US returns to Afghanistan’s ‘Lost Province,’ for a while].