Coalition and Afghan special operations forces targeted an al Qaeda facilitator in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar yesterday. He is the ninth al Qaeda operative or insurgent with ties to the terror group who has been targeted so far this year, and the sixth in the last 30 days.
The joint Afghan and Coalition force executed a search for an al Qaeda facilitator who is known to relay messages for senior al Qaeda leadership, according to the International Security Assistance Force. The target is also said to deliver “weapons, military equipment, and money” to al Qaeda cells for use in attacks. ISAF told The Long War Journal that the facilitator is an Afghan national of Pashtun ethnicity who is affiliated with “Arab” foreign fighters.
Although one “enemy of Afghanistan” was arrested during the operation, it is currently unclear if he is the targeted facilitator. ISAF uses the term “enemy of Afghanistan” synonymously with “insurgent.”
The search was conducted in Nangarhar’s Behsud district, which is not far from the restive provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, areas that have seen consistent al Qaeda presence. ISAF has launched six raids against al Qaeda’s network in the Behsud district since the end of August 2010.
The Behsud district’s close proximity to the Pakistan border may be an indication that much of the support the target is providing to al Qaeda cells in Afghanistan is likely coming from across the border, outside the reach of Coalition forces. However, when asked by The Long War Journal where the weapons, equipment, and money he supplies comes from, ISAF declined to release further information.
A week ago, Afghan and Coalition forces conducted five operations targeting al Qaeda leaders in neighboring Kunar province. Five “extremists” were captured and four were killed during the searches, but the intended targets appear to remain elusive.
The last raid against al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar took place on May 2. An “insurgent” leader who runs a training camp somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border and commands more than 100 fighters, including suicide bombers, was the target of the raid. The leader is linked to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, and “Arabs,” a term that ISAF has used recently to describe Arab members of al Qaeda [see LWJ report, ISAF kills 2 ‘Arab’-linked commanders in Nuristan].
The al Qaeda facilitator who was targeted in Nangarhar is likely a member of al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil. The paramilitary force fields small units of conventional forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and also embeds military trainers within Taliban units in both countries. These trainers provide instructions for battling security forces in local insurgencies as well as knowledge, expertise, funding, and resources to conduct local and international attacks.
The US government has slowly begun identifying Shadow Army commanders and operatives working in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US Treasury Department added one such Pakistan-based trainer and commander of al Qaeda’s “paramilitary brigades” to the list of global terrorists just last week. And in August 2012, the US State Department added Azzam Abdullah Zureik Al Maulid Al Subhi, a Saudi better known as Mansur al Harbi, to the terrorism list. Al Harbi is said to work “at a training camp in Afghanistan and is tied to numerous senior al Qaeda leaders.” [For more information on this unit, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army,’ from February 2009.]
Al Qaeda in Nangarhar
Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Islam, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, and the al Qaeda-linked Hizb-i-Islami Khalis all maintain a presence in Nangarhar province, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The presence of terror cells has been detected in the districts of Achin, Bati Kowt, Behsud, Chaparhar, Dara Noor, Deh Bala, Hisarak, Jalalabad, Khogyani, Nazyan, Pachir wa Agam, Sherzad, Shinwar, and Surkh Rod, or 14 of Nangarhar’s 22 districts.
ISAF has been reporting on the presence of al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar province since April of 2007, when it announced the capture of five “al Qaeda associates” during a raid in the Chaparhar district. Although ISAF has conducted 32 raids against al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar since 2007, the terror group has continued to maintain its operations there.
ISAF reports on al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar often refer to the group’s operations on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, as well as the group’s involvement in suicide operations. Additionally the reports frequently note the al Qaeda operatives’ alliances with the Haqqani Network, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Hizb-i-Islami Khalis. The raids mentioned below are a sampling of the 32 reported raids against the al Qaeda/foreign fighter network in Nangarhar.
For instance, in November 2009, security forces killed several enemy fighters during an operation targeting an al Qaeda operative south of Jalalabad, the provincial capital. The al Qaeda operative was responsible for a “wide range of duties from Sharia interpretation to military training of militants,” according to ISAF.
In August 2010, a Taliban subcommander who facilitates the movement of “foreign fighters,” a term often used to describe members of al Qaeda, from Pakistan into Nangarhar province was targeted during an airstrike in Deh Bala district. An estimated 12 insurgents were killed during the operation, including Pakistani fighters from Waziristan, and Taliban fighters. Three months later, ISAF captured the top suicide operations facilitator for Nangarhar during an operation in Khogyani district. The suicide facilitator worked for al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups, and moved suicide bombers into Afghanistan from Pakistan.
That same year, ISAF conducted two raids against Taliban commanders in Nangarhar who helped Lashkar-a-Taiba fighters enter the province to wage jihad. The Lashkar-a-Taiba is a Pakistan-based jihadist group, that, like the Haqqani Network, is backed by Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Sevices Intelligence Directorate. Lashkar-a-Taiba is closely allied to al Qaeda; in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which borders Nangarhar, the two groups are known to conduct joint operations.
In March 2011, special operations forces targeted a Hizb-i Islami Khalis leader who is affiliated with al Qaeda and facilitates IED and suicide bomber attacks in Nangarhar’s Jalalabad district. That same month, a Haqqani Network leader working for the Taliban and al Qaeda was captured during an operation in the Chaparhar district. The leader commanded approximately 40-50 Taliban fighters within Nangarhar and was involved in the planning of assaults and suicide bombings in the province.
And in September 2011, ISAF killed Sabar Lal Melma, a key al Qaeda operative and former Guantanamo detainee, during an operation in Jalalabad district. Melma was responsible for attacks and financing insurgent activity in the Pech district in neighboring Kunar province, another al Qaeda haven. He was in contact with several senior al Qaeda members throughout Kunar and Pakistan.