US special operations forces have killed Abdullah Wakil, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Panjwai district in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. The insurgent commander was gunned down yesterday during a nighttime/early morning air assault specifically targeting him in the village of Perozi in central Panjwai.
Wakil and at least six other insurgents opened fire on US special operations forces while attempting to flee the village. The US troops, who had already been inserted by helicopter, returned small arms fire, killing Wakil and one of his bodyguards; five other insurgents surrendered and were captured before they could escape the area. The death of Wakil comes shortly after one of the shadow governor’s “close associates,” possibly his “brother,” was apprehended by a platoon of US soldiers while visiting an Afghan Local Police (ALP) checkpoint in the Sperwan Gar area on March 25.
US soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Panjwai have been chasing Wakil since their arrival last November, and it is estimated that he has been the Taliban’s shadow governor for more than a year. “He was the head honcho, as far as 4-9 was concerned,” said First Lieutenant Jeff Browne, the tactical intelligence officer for 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, which is responsible for the western portion of the district.
Wakil’s network is known to have executed a number of asymmetrical suicide attacks in both Panjwai and Kandahar City and he was also the area’s “operations liason back to [the Taliban’s] Quetta [Shura],” added Browne. The Taliban shadow governor was also believed to have been behind the assassination of Panjwai’s previous district governor, Sayed Fazuldin Agha, a little more than a year ago. Agha, who was responsible for reconciling a number of Taliban commanders with the government, was a highly influential official, and his death was viewed at the time as a significant setback for ISAF and Afghan government efforts in Kandahar. He was killed in a suicide attack.
US military personnel in Panjwai anticipate that the death of Wakil will disrupt the ability of the local insurgency to conduct “asymmetric operations” or “high profile attacks in the area” at the start of the fighting season for a short time prior to the appointment of the shadow governor’s replacement.
“I think the impact is to be determined,” said Lieutenant Colonel James Dooghan, commander of the 4-9 Infantry. “[When] any senior Taliban leader is killed, it does cause disruption of their ability to be cohesive in their operations. His death should disrupt [insurgent operations] in the horn of Panjwai. How long that’s going to occur remains to be seen, and it depends on the capability of those who are appointed to replace him, because they are always going to be replaced.”
The killing of Wakil is another setback for the Taliban in Panjwai, occurring on the heels of a grassroots security movement in the Sperwan and Zangabad areas that has injected manpower and intelligence into the local security forces’ campaign against the insurgents over the past two months. The district shadow governor is also the second high-level Taliban commander killed in Kandahar province within the past 48 hours. Hafez Hekmatullah, the “director of assassinations” for the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kandahar province, was killed by Afghan police along with two of his bodyguards in the Maruf district, also on Sunday. Hekmatullah was responsible for the high-profile assassination of Khan Mohammad Mujahid, the Kandahar Provincial Police Chief, two years ago.
[Note: This report was updated with the correct spelling of First Lieutenant Browne’s last name. He was incorrectly referred to as ‘Brown’ in a previous version.]