Center for Strategic Communication

Afghan and Coalition forces arrested an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) commander today during an operation in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reported capturing the member of the al Qaeda-linked IMU in the Burkah district, making this the second IMU operative captured in that district so far this year.

According to ISAF, “the leader conducted assassinations directed by insurgent leadership in the province.” He also coordinated the supply of weapons to insurgents for attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces. However, when asked by The Long War Journal where he was acquiring the weapons, ISAF said it could not verify the location but that the detainee is of “Afghan-Uzbek nationality.”

The last reported operation targeting an IMU operative occurred on Jan. 11, also in the Burkah district of Baghlan province. In that raid, Afghan and Coalition forces captured a Taliban leader who also serves as an IMU commander and was responsible for rooting out disloyal fighters within both organizations. This followed a Jan. 10 operation conducted in neighboring Takhar province that killed an IMU facilitator by the name of Mazlum Yar. Yar facilitated suicide bombers and organized IED emplacement throughout Takhar and Baghlan provinces.

Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain entrenched in Afghanistan

According to The Long War Journal‘s study of al Qaeda-affiliated groups operating inside Afghanistan, three IMU operatives have been killed or captured this year and five operations targeting al Qaeda or its affiliates have been conducted in January 2013. By comparison, only two such operations were conducted in Afghanistan in January 2012, and eight were conducted in January 2011 at the height of the surge.

The study indicates that the IMU has focused its operations in the northern Afghan provinces, primarily Kunduz, Baghlan, and Takhar. At the same time, members of al Qaeda have found safe havens in the country’s eastern provinces along the Pakistani border, particularly Kunar province, where two operations were conducted last week targeting insurgents linked to the terror organization [see LWJ reports: Al Qaeda-linked Taliban commander targeted in Kunar raid and ISAF launches another raid targeting al Qaeda in Kunar].

Last year, The Long War Journal counted 67 operations targeting al Qaeda-linked insurgents. These primarily included members of the IMU, foreign fighters, and insurgents who are either directly linked to or are actual members of al Qaeda. During the height of the Obama administration’s surge in 2011, there were 92 such operations; and in 2010, 79 operations. However, in 2009 before the surge was launched, there were only 35 reported operations targeting al Qaeda and affiliated groups in Afghanistan.

The rise in raids during the surge years reflects the increase in operational tempo likely due to the greater number of Coalition troops available. But as Coalition troops were withdrawn throughout 2012, the number of raids did not return to their pre-surge level or decrease because of gains made. This could suggest a number of things, including a renewed focus by ISAF troops in targeting al Qaeda, a previous underreporting of operations targeting the group, or a resurgent al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Whatever the answer may be will likely become more apparent in 2013. [For more information on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, see ISAF kills and captures IMU operatives in Afghan north; and for more information on al Qaeda in Afghanistan, see ISAF launches 2 raids targeting al Qaeda-linked commanders.]