Center for Strategic Communication

Two al Qaeda operatives who were associated with a top terrorist leader were among seven jihadists killed in a US airstrike along the Afghan-Pakistan border in December 2013. The al Qaeda operatives were traveling with members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

The airstrike, which took place on Dec. 13, 2013 in the Lal Pur district of the eastern province of Nangarhar, targeted a boat that was transporting al Qaeda and Taliban operatives on the Kabul River, according to a report in Dunya Online, an Urdu-language newspaper in Pakistan. A translation of the article was obtained by The Long War Journal.

Also killed in the airstrike were three members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and two members of the Afghan Taliban.

“They had held a joint meeting in Nangarhar and they were on their way to Kunar through the Kabul River when the drone attack killed them,” Dunya Online reported.

The two al Qaeda leaders were described as “close companions of Ilyas Kashmiri,” the renowned Pakistani jihadist who was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in June 2011. Kashmiri rose through the ranks of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, or HUJI, led Brigade 313, and ultimately served as the leader of al Qaeda’s Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, and as a member of al Qaeda’s military shura at the time of his death.

Two US intelligence officials who track al Qaeda in the region told The Long War Journal that two al Qaeda operatives were indeed among those killed in the December 2013 airstrike in Nangarhar. The identities of the al Qaeda and Taliban operatives were not disclosed.

The al Qaeda operatives were commanders in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s paramilitary unit that fields forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and also embeds military trainers within Taliban units in both countries. These trainers provide instruction for battling security forces in local insurgencies, as well as knowledge, expertise, funding, and resources to conduct local and international attacks. [For more information on this unit, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army,’ from February 2009.]

The Shadow Army receives support from a host of Taliban groups in the region, including the Afghan Taliban, the Mullah Nazir Group, Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s Taliban faction, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, as well as a plethora of Pakistani terror groups such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiban, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The commanders of some of these groups, such as Ilyas Kashmiri (HUJI) and Badr Mansoor (HuM), and Farman Shinwari, have risen to key leadership positions within al Qaeda’s Shadow Army.

The US has targeted and killed several of the Shadow Army’s top leaders in drone strikes in Pakistan. Among those killed were Abu Laith al Libi, Abdullah Said al Libi, and Ilyas Kashmiri, the former emirs of the Shadow Army.

Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, including many based in Pakistan, are known to operate in Nangarhar province. ISAF has reported on 32 raids against al Qaeda’s network in Nangarhar since 2007, according to a study of ISAF’s press releases conducted by The Long War Journal. The last reported raid took place on June 14, 2013.

In late June of 2013, ISAF stopped reporting on its raids against al Qaeda, after completing its transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces. ISAF’s halt in reporting on its raids against al Qaeda has shut off information on the targeting of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan.