Afghan and Coalition forces captured a “weapons facilitator” from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during an operation in Kwajah district in Afghanistan’s Takhar province yesterday.
The International Security Assistance Force reported that the facilitator “is believed to have purchased rifles, machine guns, mortar systems and fertilizer for building IEDs to conduct attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces” in Takhar province. ISAF also told The Long War Journal that the detainee was “an Afghan national of Uzbek descent.” ISAF would not disclose where the IMU facilitator was obtaining the weapons and explosive materials.
This is the third reported capture of an IMU “weapons facilitator” this month, and the 36th raid targeting IMU this year, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The vast majority of these raids have been conducted in northern Afghanistan, a hotbed for IMU operations.
The last reported raid took place on Nov. 11 in Kunduz province, when ISAF captured a senior IMU “weapons facilitator.” That raid followed five days after the capture of another IMU operative, which occurred during the first raid targeting a member of the al Qaeda-linked group in almost a month.
ISAF underreporting of Coalition raids?
A Long War Journal study of ISAF raids targeting al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Afghanistan over the last two years finds that both the number and the frequency of raids decreased between 2011 and 2012. There were 52 reported raids targeting IMU members or insurgents associated with the group from January 2011 to November 2011, compared with 36 raids so far this year. This decrease in reported raids between 2011 and 2012 stands in contrast to an almost unchanged number of Enemy-Initiated Attacks (EIA) and an increase in civilian casualties during the same time period, based on ISAF data.
The discrepancy between increased civilian casualties and decreased ISAF operations targeting the IMU could reflect a number of factors. These factors could include the withdrawal of Coalition forces, leaving less available forces to conduct raids; or a decrease in IMU activity, minimizing potential targets. However, statements suggest that ISAF is not reporting all of the raids targeting the group.
When asked last week by The Long War Journal about a month-long gap in reported raids between October and November of this year, ISAF responded that “[f]or reasons internal to ISAF there were no operational reports issued during that time period.”
“That does not indicate there were no missions executed, just that there was not a release issued,” ISAF continued. ISAF would not disclose the reasons for not issuing the press releases on raids against al Qaeda and allied groups.
A large gap in ISAF reports on raids against al Qaeda, IMU, and other terror groups in Afghanistan occurred once before in the past year. Between Dec. 8, 2011 and Jan. 29, 2012, ISAF did not report on any raids against the al Qaeda-linked groups. At that time, ISAF told The Long War Journal that the lack of reporting on raids against al Qaeda and the IMU “should not be misinterpreted as lack of operational rigor against those entities,” but would not disclose whether any raids against those groups had occurred during that time period.
“ISAF continues to conduct combat operations against the spectrum of insurgent forces through-out Afghanistan year-round,” ISAF stated on Jan. 30. [See LWJ report, Afghan, ISAF troops kill IMU leader in north, for more details.] After the inquiry in January, the reports of raids against the terror groups picked up.
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 Afghanistan and has integrated into the Taliban’s shadow government in the north. [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. The IMU fights alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well. In September 2010, the IMU took credit for the Sept. 19 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. So far this year, special operations forces have conducted at least 36 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, 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.
This 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, 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 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.