Dost Mohammed, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nuristan province, being interviewed by Al Jazeera in November 2009.
Afghan officials are again reporting that Sheikh Dost Mohammed, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nuristan province, has been killed in a US drone strike in Kunar province. The report of Dost Mohammed’s death is the second so far this year.
Dost Mohammed and two “guards” were supposedly killed on June 21 in a US airstrike in Kunar’s Ghaziabad district, Nuristan governor Tamim Nuristani told Pajhwok Afghan News. Syed Fazlullah Wahidi, the governor of Kunar province, also claimed that Dost Mohammed was killed in an airstrike on June 21.
The International Security Assistance Force did not confirm a strike took place in Kunar, but it is possible that unmanned Predators or Repeaters operated by the CIA carried out a strike.
The Taliban have not commented on the reports of Dost Mohammed’s death. An email sent to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, has gone unanswered.
Dost Mohammed has previously been reported killed numerous times since 2009, and the latest report about his death should be viewed with caution. Most recently, in March, Afghan officials claimed that he was killed in a US drone strike, also in Ghaziabad.
Since abandoning several outposts in the more remote border districts of Nuristan province in October 2009, Afghan and Coalition forces have continued operations against an entrenched Taliban network spanning Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Last May, a Coalition operation killed Sheikh Jamil ur Rahman, the Taliban’s deputy shadow governor for Nuristan province, as he and associate Abdul Hakim were traveling through Nuristan’s Waygal district.
Background on Dost Mohammed and Nuristan
Dost Mohammed is one of the most wanted Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, and has organized massed assaults on US bases in the province. In one such attack, on Camp Keating in October 2009, Dost’s fighters, backed by al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, overran a portion of the base and killed nine US soldiers.
After US forces withdrew from combat outposts in Nuristan, Al Jazeera released a video of the Taliban occupying one of the abandoned combat outposts in Kamdish district in Nuristan. The Taliban displayed weapons, mines, and ammunition left behind by departing US and Afghan forces. In another video, released by the Taliban, Dost Mohammed, the shadow governor for Nuristan, was seen riding on an exercise bike that was left behind by US forces.
Much of Nuristan is thought to be either under Taliban control or contested. In September 2011, Governor Nuristani said that six of the eight districts in his province were effectively under Taliban control [see LWJ report, Governor: Most of Nuristan under Taliban control].
The province serves as a safe haven for al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and other regional terror groups. ISAF has launched three raids against al Qaeda’s network in Nuristan so far this year. In one raid, on May 1, ISAF killed Saleh Abd Al-Aziz Hamad al-Luhayb, a Saudi national whose name appeared on Saudi Arabia’s list of 47 most wanted terrorists in 2011. He was a known mortar and explosives expert, participated in attacks against security forces, served as a key liaison and trainer to local insurgent commanders, and led efforts to establish a permanent foreign fighter presence in the area, particularly “Arabs,” ISAF said.
The Afghan government and the Coalition have stopped waging counterinsurgency operations in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar. The US military has withdrawn from several combat outposts in the rugged, remote provinces. Instead, conventional and special operations forces are launching periodic sweeps to cull the Taliban forces, or “mowing the grass,” as a senior US general described it in April 2011.