Since the beginning of May, Afghan and Coalition forces have launched five operations targeting the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the northern province of Baghlan. Raids against the terror group have increased steadily as temperatures have warmed in Afghanistan, and are currently the highest rate since the war began. Based on a study of International Security Assistance Force press releases by The Long War Journal, the number of raids this year against IMU members and insurgents affiliated with the group currently stands at 26.
On May 6, special operation forces targeted the Taliban’s ranking military official for Nahrin district in Baghlan. According to ISAF, the targeted official coordinated suicide attacks with local IMU groups and commanded a cell of insurgent fighters who “have conducted a campaign of assassinations in the district.” He is known to have collected illegal taxes from local civilians and “participated in multiple attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.” The target also is reportedly “instrumental in training and familiarizing new fighters in the area.” One insurgent was killed during the operation but has not been identified.
ISAF also reported two raids in Baghlan province on May 5 that targeted insurgents with dual ties to the IMU and the Taliban. In neighboring Baghlan-e Jadid district, an insurgent commander identified as Khialuddin was killed by Afghan and Coalition forces. Khialuddin, who was also known as Shahbudin or Karwan, directed IED operations targeting senior government officials and security forces in multiple districts throughout Baghlan province. ISAF reported that he “worked directly with Taliban senior leadership to disseminate information to low-level fighters” and was vital in the funding and arming of insurgent groups in the area.
Meanwhile, to the east in Burkah district, an IMU hotspot, another “senior insurgent leader” was captured by Afghan and Coalition forces. The unidentified leader had “operational control” over a group of fighters responsible for multiple attacks, ISAF said. He is also believed to be important for the supply of weapons to insurgent fighters, particularly the supply of rocket-propelled grenades.
The targets of the operations on May 5 and May 6 indicate the high level of cooperation between the Taliban and IMU in the region. The IMU is known to have integrated its operations with the Taliban in the Afghan north and maintains its base of support across the border in Pakistan. IMU leaders have also served in the Taliban’s shadow government in the north. ISAF further told The Long War Journal that they were all Afghan nationals of Uzbek descent with some affiliation to Uzbek foreign fighters.
However, ISAF’s increased operations have come at cost. A member of a German special operations team that was supporting Afghan forces in Baghlan was reportedly killed over the weekend. However, it is unclear if he was participating in one of the raids on May 5.
Apart from the three raids this week, ISAF announced that two more operations occurred in Baghlan on May 1 and May 3.
On May 3, a “senior insurgent leader” named Jamal was killed during a raid in Burkah district. Jamal, also known as Mullah Zabiullah, was the second highest-ranking insurgent in Burkah and served as an important link between the IMU and Taliban in the province. Insurgents under his command are said to be responsible for “a significant number of attacks, including suicide bombings, against Afghan civilians throughout Baghlan and Takhar provinces.” Jamal was also “personally responsible for recruiting and training Afghans in insurgency operations and targeting Afghan officials for kidnappings and executions.” Three other insurgents were killed during the raid and two were detained.
The May 1 operation targeted a Taliban IED cell leader with ties to the IMU in Baghlan-e Jadid district. The unnamed leader directs IED operations against senior government officials and security forces throughout neighboring Kunduz province. ISAF also reported that the target has the role of disseminating information to low-level fighters, similar to that of Khialuddin who was killed on May 5. The May 1 raid was likely targeting him, however ISAF would not confirm if this was the case.
Again, as with this week’s targets, ISAF told The Long War Journal that Jamal and the Taliban IED cell leader, who may be Khialuddin, are Afghan nationals of Uzbek descent with affiliations to Uzbek foreign fighters.
Baghlan a base for IMU in Afghanistan
Baghlan province has been the center of Afghan and Coalition efforts against the IMU this year, with 12 raids, according to The Long War Journal‘s study. The vast majority of those raids have occurred in Burkah district, whose border proximity to Kunduz and Takhar provinces allows the district to serve as a key staging point for attacks in the region. Kunduz province, which in previous years saw the most operations targeting members of the al Qaeda-linked group, is now the second most active. So far this year there have been six raids in Kunduz; in 2012 there were 16 raids; and in 2011 there were 18. Takhar province has seen four operations this year; there were five last year; and eight in 2011. Beyond those strongholds, operations against the IMU have also been conducted in Balkh, Samangan, and Jawzjan provinces this year.
Alhough it is too early to say if Afghan and Coalition forces were successful in dislodging IMU fighters from their stronghold in Kunduz, it is clear that Baghlan has emerged as key base in the country. ISAF is likely to continue to focus its efforts in the province during the 2013 fighting season, which at its current pace, could prove more active than previous years.