Center for Strategic Communication

The International Security Assistance Force has captured a commander in the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during an operation in northern Afghanistan. Afghan and Coalition forces captured the unnamed insurgent commander yesterday in Kunduz district in Kunduz province.

ISAF revealed to The Long War Journal that the IMU leader is an Uzbek national. This is the eighth operation targeting a member of the al Qaeda-linked group in Afghanistan this year.

According to the report, the IMU commander is “suspected to be responsible for directing subordinate fighters in attacks” on security forces. He also is believed to be an IED expert who has trained “other members of an extremist cell.” When asked to identify the cell, ISAF said “due to security reason[s] we cannot release any information about the cell mentioned.”

The IMU is known to fight alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda and, as with al Qaeda and other foreign groups, its members often serve as advisers and trainers to indigenous fighters such as the Taliban.

Based on a study by The Long War Journal, the IMU has remained active in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, and particularly in Kunduz, where yesterday’s IMU commander was captured. Last year, 38 raids were conducted by Afghan and Coalition forces targeting the group; of those, 16 were in Kunduz. Yesterday’s raid was the third this year that has resulted in the death or capture of an IMU operative in the province. The last two reported operations targeting the IMU in Afghanistan also took place in Kunduz province [see LWJ report, Multiple insurgents captured in raid targeting IMU leader, and Threat Matrix report, Another IMU leader captured in Afghanistan as Obama announces US force cut].

In mid-March 2012, there had been only four operations targeting the IMU since the beginning of the year, significantly less than the eight so far this year. Considering the substantial drawdown of Coalition troops following the surge and the announced withdrawal of 34,000 US troops, the greater number of raids so far this year could signify that IMU activity in the country has increased.

Also yesterday in Kunduz, a suicide bomber killed 10 people in an attack at a buzkashi game in the Imam Sahib district. The attack appears to have been targeting the district police chief, whose brother is the speaker of the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament, and his family. The police chief, his father, and four bodyguards were killed in the blast, according to Pajhwok Afghan News.

While no group has claimed credit for yesterday’s suicide attack, the IMU is the likely culprit. The group has attacked political and military leaders in the north with suicide bombers in the past.

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 as in the Central Asian republics.