Following a deadly suicide bombing in northern Afghanistan that killed 10 people on March 13, Afghan and Coalition forces launched separate raids on March 14 and March 15 targeting three senior members of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. These raids were the 9th and 10th operations targeting the terror group in Afghanistan so far this year.
Today ISAF announced that an 11th operation had been conducted, in which an IMU leader was captured in the Kunduz district of Kunduz province. According to the International Security Assistance Force, the detained leader is “believed to have coordinated multiple attacks” against security forces and “served a vital role in the facilitation of weapons to extremist fighters.” ISAF confirmed to The Long War Journal that the captured leader was of Pashtun ethnicity. On March 13, Afghan and Coalition forces captured an IMU commander in the same district who was an IED expert and trained insurgents how to assemble and use them in attacks.
On March 15 in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province, the same district where the suicide bombing had taken place two days earlier, special operation forces arrested an IMU “suicide attack coordinator” who is accused of ordering multiple suicide attacks on members of the Afghan government and security forces. ISAF later confirmed to The Long War Journal that the captured IMU operative was behind the March 13 blast that killed the local police chief, his father, and four bodyguards. ISAF also reported that at the time of his capture, the IMU coordinator was planning an attack on Afghan National Security Forces.
Meanwhile, ISAF also conducted an operation in northern Afghanistan targeting a pair of “high-profile” IMU attack coordinators in the Faizabad district of Jawzjan province. The March 14 raid targeted IMU members who work together to direct attacks on security forces and have organized a “significant number” of suicide bombings. They are also believed to facilitate IED operations. One insurgent was detained; ISAF told The Long War Journal that he is not one of the targeted IMU coordinators, however. This is the first raid targeting the IMU in Jawzjan province since April 2011, according to ISAF press releases compiled by The Long War Journal.
ISAF revealed to The Long War Journal that the captured IMU coordinator in the Imam Sahib operation is of Uzbek ethnicity. However, ISAF could not confirm the nationality of any of the detained or targeted insurgents. In response to a question of the targets’ affiliations to foreign fighters, ISAF said that with all three targets “there are indications of Uzbek involvement.” This is unsurprising given that the raids were conducted near the Uzbekistan border.
New campaign targeting the IMU?
ISAF has significantly increased its operational tempo targeting the IMU in Afghanistan this year, in comparison to previous years. Typically, the rate of operations increases as the spring and summer fighting season approaches, but the number of operations targeting the IMU this year has already exceeded the number conducted during the height of the surge of US forces in Afghanistan. From Jan. 1 to March 18, 2011 there were six operations targeting the group; in 2012, during the same time span there were five. Counting today’s raid, there have been already 11 operations against the IMU this year.
This could be an indication that security forces are increasing their efforts against the terror group prior to the Coalition forces’ transition from a combat role to an advisory role. The transfer of security responsibility will have a dramatic effect not only on the ability of US and ISAF forces to target terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the IMU, but also on Afghan capabilities to conduct these kinds of raids.
However, it could also signal that the IMU’s activity in the country is increasing due to the emerging security vacuum left by the withdrawal of international troops. Germany, which commands security operations in the north, currently has 4,400 troops in Afghanistan. But they have come under criticism for not being prepared for their responsibilities in suppressing the insurgency. The IMU’s resilience in the region may be an indication that German efforts to stabilize northern Afghanistan have not been effective.