The Long War Journal
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan claimed credit for a bombing today at a political rally in the tribal agency of Kurram that killed at least 18 people. Additionally, the Taliban named a new emir for the tribal agency.
The Pakistani Taliban group, which is closely linked to al Qaeda, claimed credit for the attack that targeted Munir Orakzai, a candidate for the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl political party. Orakzai escaped the blast unhurt, but 18 people are said to have been killed and 42 more were wounded.
The Taliban claimed credit for the attack in an email received by The Long War Journal from Ihsanullah Ihsan, the top spokesman for the group. Ihsan said Orakzai was targeted "not due to his current political affiliation with JUI," but because he aided the Pakistani government in turning over "arab mujahideen," a clear reference to al Qaeda operatives, to the US. Ihsan accused Orakzai of turning over al Qaeda operatives who fled the US offensive during the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001.
"We attacked him because of the crimes he committed against Islam and mujahideen," Ihsan said. "He handed over dozens of Arab mujahideen to America, now suffering in Gitmo. He worked with full zeal with ANP, MQM, and PPP [Pakistani political parties] for last five years in shedding blood of innocent tribesmen."
"We will never forgive him nor leave him alive," Ihsan also said.
Last week, Ihsan urged Pakistanis to "rebel" against the government, railed against democracy in Pakistan, and communicated the group's affinity for al Qaeda.
"We appeal to the Pakistani nation to save themselves from American puppets, " Ihsan said last week. "We appeal to the Pakistani public to boycott the election and rebel against this system, which has exploited the real aspirations and wishes of Pakistani public. We dedicate all our activities for the next decade to Sheikh Osama bin Laden and name this operation after him."
Over the past several weeks, the Pakistani Taliban have conducted several attacks against political candidates, party headquarters, and political gatherings. But the Taliban said they would not attack members of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl party.
The leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Fazl Rehman, is widely credited with creating the Afghan Taliban by training many of its members in madrassas in Baluchistan province and northwestern Pakistan. Fazl led the opposition in parliament from 2004-2007. Despite his overt support for the Taliban, which continues to this day, he remains a free man in Pakistan.
A new Taliban emir for Kurram
In addition to explaining why Orakzai was targeted, Ihsan also said that the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has named a new leader for the tribal agency of Kurram.
"Hafiz Dolat Khan alias Hafiz Ahmed has been appointed as emir of Kurram Agency by TTP shura and the above mentioned operation was his first achievement," Ihsan concluded.
Khan replaced Maulvi Noor Jamal, who is also known as Maulvi Toofan and is considered a ruthless and bloodthirsty commander. Jamal is at the forefront of the sectarian war against the Shia population in Kurram. In early 2010, Jamal denied rumors that he had taken control of the Pakistani Taliban after Hakeemullah Mehsud was reported killed in late January 2010. In fact, Jamal claimed Hakeemullah was still alive.
In 2011, Jamal's forces clashed with Fazal Saeed Utezai, a former Taliban commander who defected to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. The fighting between the two groups quickly died down and Kurram has been relatively quiet since.
Saleh Abd al Aziz Hamad al Luhayb. Image from Saudi Arabia's Ministry of the Interior.
Coalition and Afghan forces killed two "Arab"-linked insurgent commanders, a wanted Saudi and an Afghan, during two separate raids in the Waygal district of Nuristan province over the past week. The International Security Assistance Force is not linking commanders identified as having "Arab involvement" to al Qaeda or affiliated groups despite the fact that Saudis holding top al Qaeda leadership positions have been known to operate in Afghanistan.
Saleh Abd al Aziz Hamad al Luhayb, who was also known as Abu Sulayman and Salman, was killed in the first raid, which occurred on May 1. ISAF originally identified him as a "senior insurgent leader," a "known mortar and explosives expert," and a "key liaison and trainer to local insurgent commanders in Waygal district. Al Luhayb "led efforts to establish a permanent foreign fighter presence in the area," ISAF continued.
The term "foreign fighters" is defined by the US Department of Defense as "those fighters who have travelled to Afghanistan from outside the Afghanistan/Pakistan region," according to its December 2012 report on Afghanistan.
Al Luhayb was a "Saudi/Arab" who was affiliated with "foreign terrorists," ISAF later told The Long War Journal. But ISAF refused to identify al Luhayb as a member of or affiliated with al Qaeda. Instead, ISAF would only say "there are indications of Arab involvement."
When asked by The Long War Journal if "indications of Arab involvement" is a reference to al Qaeda, ISAF responded that "saying 'there are indications of Arab involvement' is as specific as we can get at this time."
Luhayb was listed by Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry as one of the 47 most wanted terrorists in 2011, which is a strong indication that he was a member of al Qaeda. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders are on Saudi Arabia's wanted lists [see LWJ report, Saudi Arabia names 47 most-wanted terrorists].
Saudis are known to hold top leadership positions within al Qaeda's network, and are also known to operate in neighboring Kunar province. ISAF has killed several top Saudi al Qaeda leaders in Kunar. Al Qaeda's leader in Kunar and Nuristan province has been identified as Farouq al Qahtani, a Saudi citizen. Another senior al Qaeda leader known to operate in Kunar is Azzam Abdullah Zureik Al Maulid Al Subhi, a Saudi who is better known as Mansur al Harbi [see LWJ reports, Senior al Qaeda leader, facilitator killed in airstrike in Kunar and ISAF captures al Qaeda's top Kunar commander].
Al Luhayb's death was first reported in the Afghan press on May 1. The governor of Nuristan told TOLOnews that an "Arab" fighter was killed in a NATO drone strike; the name of the Arab who was killed was not given, however.
When The Long War Journal inquired with ISAF about the reported drone strike that killed an Arab, ISAF denied that such an attack took place.
After ISAF reported al Luhayb's death in a press release, The Long War Journal inquired if he was killed in an airstrike or a ground raid. ISAF responded that "due to operational security we do not discuss our tactics and cannot detail the type of operation it was." However, in the past, ISAF has provided specific details of raids against insurgent targets in numerous press releases.
"Arab"-linked Afghan insurgent commander killed the next day
The second "Arab"-linked commander was killed in the Waygal district just one day later. ISAF identified the commander as Mohammad Issa, who was also known as Emirati. Issa was "a senior leader with ties to the Taliban and other terrorist networks" and was "in charge of training Taliban fighters and leaders responsible for attacks against Afghan and Coalition forces."
In addition to training and leading fighters, Issa "had a history of hosting transitory international terrorist in his home prior to them engaging in terrorist activities."
ISAF told The Long War Journal that Issa was an Afghan national and, like al Luhayb, "there are indications of Arab involvement."
ISAF obscuring links to al Qaeda
One other time this week, ISAF mentioned that it targeted an insurgent commander with links to Arabs. Prior to this week, however, ISAF has not used this terminology to describe leaders linked to the activities of foreign fighters.
On May 1, a "senior insurgent leader" with links to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, and Arabs operating in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar was the focus of a joint raid by Afghan and Coalition forces. The leader also commands suicide bombers and runs a training camp in an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. ISAF told The Long War Journal that the commander is an Afghan and is associated with "Arab involvement."
ISAF has not mentioned a raid against al Qaeda's network in Afghanistan since Jan. 24, when it announced that Wali, an al Qaeda-associated Taliban leader, was killed during an operation in Dangam district in Kunar province. Wali served as both an al Qaeda facilitator and a Taliban commander; he coordinated operations between the two groups.
The only other reported raid against al Qaeda's network this year took place on Jan. 23, in the Ghaziabad district in Kunar. ISAF has reported on raids this year against al Qaeda-affiliated groups, however, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
In April, The Long War Journal identified the trend toward a lack of reporting on operations against al Qaeda and requested that ISAF discuss the terror group and its network in Afghanistan. A senior ISAF public affairs official said that ISAF "won't be able to support your request regarding the presence" of al Qaeda [see LWJ report, ISAF operations against IMU in 2013 at highest rate since war's start].
Most US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal were reluctant to discuss ISAF's current policy on discussing al Qaeda. But one senior official described the military command's position as "pure dissimulation on the part of ISAF."
The official said that senior officers at ISAF are uncomfortable with the fact that al Qaeda has maintained safe havens in the northeastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan after US forces withdrew from large areas of the provinces in 2009 and 2010 as part of the military's population-centric counterinsurgency strategy. US forces pulled out of remote locations in the two provinces even as ISAF was reporting that al Qaeda was running training camps there [see LWJ report, ISAF captures al Qaeda's top Kunar commander].
"This is everything to do with IJC [ISAF Joint Command] not wanting to publicly admit that there is an al Qaeda sanctuary in Kunar-Nuristan, even though the official Pentagon reports on the topic admit as much," the official said, referring to the April 2012 and December 2012 releases of the biannual Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. The April 2012 report specifically mentioned that al Qaeda is trying to maintain safe haven in Kunar and Nuristan, while the December 2012 report more generally mentioned "the northeastern region" of Afghanistan. Additionally, a classified US military assessment based on prisoner interrogations that was leaked to The New York Times in February 2012 said that al Qaeda maintains "a small haven" in Kunar and Nuristan.
The official also said that Arabs in these areas are either members of al Qaeda or affiliated with the global terror group.
"Arab involvement doesn't always mean AQ [al Qaeda], but it does mean AQ affiliated," the official stated. "Sometimes Arab fighters belong to other groups, but all of those fighters are part of or closely affiliated with AQ."
"We do not want to admit this outside of the throwaway lines about al Qaeda having a safe haven in Kunar-Nuristan because to do so would place a whole host of decisions including the original withdrawal from Kunar-Nuristan in doubt and allow for the failure of our most bare bones remaining objective in Afghanistan," the official concluded.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) struck at least one target inside Syria between Thursday evening and Friday morning. US officials told NBC News on Friday that the target was likely "related to delivery systems for chemical weapons" that were destined for Hezbollah. On Saturday, The New York Times reported that Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles from Iran were struck at an airport in Damascus.
Press reports had originally suggested that a "building" or "warehouse," and not a chemical weapons facility, was hit. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the US doesn't believe Israel would target one of the Syrian regime's many chemical weapons facilities" as "[t]here could be unintended consequences in hitting such a facility, including unleashing poisonous gas, or by allowing others to raid the damaged facility and steal the weapons."
An attack on delivery systems is not surprising, however. As former Mossad operations officer Michael Ross noted in February, "The chemical weapons issue is important," but "it is tangential to the overall issue of Israel's enemies possessing long range missile capability and other advanced technological weapons systems. Stemming the flow and technological upgrade of these rockets and missiles is a top priority for Israel's military and intelligence community."
While Israeli officials have not taken official responsibility for the alleged strike, prior to the news breaking late on Friday evening, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, told CNN: "If the Syrian regime tries to transfer chemical weapons, or what we call game changing weaponry, to terrorist organizations, particularly to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel will not remain passive." In addition, anonymous Israeli officials on Saturday said a raid had targeted a shipment of advanced missiles, according to Reuters and the Associated Press.
Senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad denied the confirmation, however. "I don't know what or who confirmed what, who are these sources? In my book only the IDF's spokesperson unit is official," Gilad said.
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, denied knowledge of the attack, as he told Reuters, "I'm not aware of any attack right now."
On Saturday evening, Damascus was rocked by a series of explosions [see video above]. Sources told Al Jazeera that "an Israeli jet broke the sound barrier and hit several military posts." Reuters reported that Syrian state television claimed the target was the same research facility in Jamraya that Israel struck near to in late January. A senior US official confirmed Israel carried out the strike to NBC News.
The latest reported airstrikes are at least the second and third by the IAF in Syria since the start of the uprising against the regime of Bashar al Assad.
In late January, the IAF reportedly struck targets near the Scientific Studies and Research Center (Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques) in Jamraya. According to reports, the IAF targeted a weapons convoy, which included Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft missiles, near the facility.
Like the strike that occurred between Thursday and Friday, the January attack was reportedly carried out by Israeli aircraft that never actually entered Syrian air space.
While some reports of the January strike suggested that the SSRC facility itself was targeted and "flattened," satellite imagery released on Feb. 6 revealed that the facility was relatively unscathed. The images did show a burnt road near the facility, possibly indicating the location of the Syrian weapons convoy when it was hit, however.
While Israel has not taken official responsibility for the January strike, then Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a conference in Munich on Feb. 3 that "I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago .... But I keep telling frankly that we said, and that is another proof that when we say something we mean it." More recently, current Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon hinted that Israel was behind the January strike. "We have a clear red line with the Syrian regime and that is not to allow advanced weapons to be passed on to Hezbollah and other militant groups .... When they crossed a red line, we have acted," Ya'alon said on April 22.
Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that they are prepared to act in Syria to prevent Hezbollah and other terror groups from obtaining advanced weaponry. In a recent interview with the BBC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "We are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises and I think people know that what I say is both measured and serious."
An Afghan soldier killed two NATO troops in an attack in western Afghanistan today. The attack is the sixth green-on-blue, or insider attack, in which Afghan security personnel open fire on Western forces, so far this year.
The International Security Assistance Force announced that two "service members were killed when an Afghan National Army soldier turned his weapon against ISAF service members in western Afghanistan today."
ISAF did not disclose the identities or nationalities of the soldiers who were killed in the attack. US, Spanish, and Italian soldiers make up the bulk of the forces operating in western Afghanistan.
It is also unclear if the Afghan soldier was killed or captured after killing the Afghan soldiers, or if he escaped.
So far this year, there have been six green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan. Five ISAF soldiers and one civilian adviser have been killed in the six attacks since Jan. 1. The first attack took place on Jan. 6 in Helmand province. The last such attack took place on April 7, when two Lithuanian soldiers were wounded after an Afghan soldier opened fire on their vehicle with an RPG.
So far this year, nearly 13 percent of ISAF's deaths have been the result of green-on-blue attacks. Last year, green-on-blue attacks accounted for 15% of Coalition deaths. The attacks have tapered off in recent months as partnering of Afghan and Coalition troops has been reduced.
Since Jan. 1, 2008, a total of 78 insider or "green-on-blue" attacks have been reported against International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel in Afghanistan, killing 132 personnel and wounding 148 more. [See LWJ special report, Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan: the data.]
Green-on-blue data remains "classified" by ISAF
While six green-on-blue attacks have been reported so far this year, the likelihood is that the number is much higher. ISAF has not disclosed the overall number of green-on-blue incidents in which ISAF soldiers were wounded by Afghan security personnel, or the attacks on ISAF personnel that did not result in casualties.
ISAF told The Long War Journal in March 2012 that "these statistics ... [are ] ... classified."
"[A]ttacks by ANSF on Coalition Forces ... either resulting in non-injury, injury or death ... these stats as a whole (the total # attacks) are what is classified and not releasable," Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, ISAF's former Press Desk Chief, told The Long War Journal. Cummings said that ISAF is "looking to declassify this number."
Inquiries as to why the overall statistic is classified went unanswered. More than one year later, the data remains classified.
Many green-on-blue attacks remain unreported. For instance, one such attack, on March 25 in Kandahar province, is known only because a reporter from The Long War Journal was present when the incident took place. In that attack, Afghan local policemen opened fire on a US base after US personnel tried to arrest a known Taliban commander at the ALP checkpoint [see LWJ report, The anatomy of green-on-blue tensions in Panjwai].
Insider attacks a key part of Taliban strategy
The Taliban have claimed to have stepped up their efforts to infiltrate Afghan security forces as well as "lure" and encourage Afghan security personnel to attack ISAF troops and advisers.
In October 2012, Taliban emir Mullah Omar released an Eid al-Adha message that urged followers to "[i]increase Increase your efforts to expand the area of infiltration in the ranks of the enemy and to bring about better order and array in the work." The statement continued: "We call on the Afghans who still stand with the stooge regime to turn to full-fledged cooperation with their Mujahid people like courageous persons in order to protect national interests and to complete independence of the country. Jihadic activities inside the circle of the State militias are the most effective stratagem. Its dimension will see further expansion, organization and efficiency if God willing."
Omar had previously addressed the issue of green-on-blue attacks at length in a statement released on Aug. 16, 2012. Omar claimed that the Taliban "cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy according to the plan given to them last year," and urged government officials and security personnel to defect and join the Taliban as a matter of religious duty. He also noted that the Taliban have created the "Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration" department, "with branches ... now operational all over the country," to encourage defections. [See Threat Matrix report, Mullah Omar addresses green-on-blue attacks.]
Just last week, the Taliban announced that green-on-blue attacks would be a key part of this year's strategy.
"This year's spring operation, in accordance with its combat nature, will consist of special military tactics quantity and quality wise while successful insider attacks, to eliminate foreign invaders, will be carried out by infiltrating Mujahideen inside enemy bases in a systematic and coordinated manner," the Taliban announced on April 27.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has released a video praising slain al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden on the second anniversary of his death and vowing to continue "waging jihad for the Caliphate" in his name.
Umar Studio, the media arm of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, released the video of Ihsanullah Ihsan, the group's top spokesman, yesterday. Ihsan's speech is titled 'The Day of Martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden.' The video was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In the video, Ihsan called the death of bin Laden, which occurred during a US Navy SEALs raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011, "the darkest day in Pakistani history." Ihsan described bin Laden as a "general" and accused the Pakistani state of colluding with the US to kill the al Qaeda emir.
"This is the day when the world's biggest terrorist, America, killed one of the greatest generals of the Muslim Ummah with the help of the Pakistani army and the government," Ihsan said.
Ihsan denounced democracy in Pakistan, calling it a tool of the West, and urged Pakistanis to "rebel" and "boycott" upcoming elections. Over the past several weeks, the Pakistani Taliban has conducted several attacks against political candidates, party headquarters, and political gatherings.
"We appeal to the Pakistani nation to save themselves from American puppets, " Ihsan said. "We appeal to the Pakistani public to boycott the election and rebel against this system, which has exploited the real aspirations and wishes of Pakistani public. We dedicate all our activities for the next decade to Sheikh Osama bin Laden and name this operation after him."
Ihsan said the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan "is following the international agenda of Sheikh Osama bin Laden" and is "upholding his ideology." The Pakistani Taliban would continue to fight until a global Caliphate is established, he claimed.
"Sheikh Osama bin Laden taught the Muslim Ummah that it is impossible to come out of political and economic slavery of the Jews and Christians without rebelling against the democratic system," he continued. "He taught that the Ummah's prosperity is hidden in waging jihad for the Caliphate."
In the wake of bin Laden's death, the Taliban carried out several attacks in Pakistan in his name. The largest was a suicide assault on Naval Air Station Mehran in Karachi on May 22, 2011. The Taliban destroyed two multimillion-dollar P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft and killed 10 Pakistani soldiers.
A year and a day prior to the death of bin Laden, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan attempted to conduct an attack on US soil. On May 1, 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani Taliban operative, attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York City's Times Square. The bomb failed to detonate due to triggering issues. Had the bomb detonated, it is thought that dozens of civilians would have been killed in the blast.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the attempt just hours after the failed attack. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the group's emir, and his deputy, Qari Hussain, released statements claiming credit for the attack. The bomber, Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested by law enforcement, was also seen on a videotape with Hakeemullah.
In addition to fighting the Pakistani military and plotting attacks against the West, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is active in fighting US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. The most infamous attack took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province on Dec. 30, 2009. A suicide bomber who claimed to be providing intelligence on the location of Ayman al Zawahiri detonated as he met with CIA officials; seven CIA personnel and security guards were killed. A videotape showing Hakeemullah and the Jordanian bomber, Abu Dujana al Khurasani, was later released by the Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban recently released a video of one of its units, the Sa'ad bin Abi Waqas Group, operating in eastern Afghanistan. The group is named after an al Qaeda leader who was killed in Kunar.
Additionally, ISAF occasionally mentions targeting the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's network in Afghanistan. Two days ago, ISAF noted that it targeted a "senior insurgent leader" with links to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, and "Arabs" (a likely reference to al Qaeda) operating in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The leader also commands suicide bombers and runs a training camp in an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Coalition and Afghan special operations forces yesterday targeted a "senior insurgent leader" with links to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network, and "Arabs" operating in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The leader also commands suicide bombers and runs a training camp in an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Special operations forces targeted the leader during a raid yesterday in Nangarhar's Nazyan district, the International Security Assistance Force announced in a press release. One "insurgent" was killed and two others were wounded during the operation. It is unclear if the leader was among those killed or wounded.
ISAF said the leader has "ties to both the Tehrik-e Taliban [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] and Haqqani terrorist networks." Both groups are closely allied to al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, and operate from Pakistan's tribal areas.
The insurgent leader "has control of over 100 fighters, including a significant number of potential suicide bombers," and "planned multiple high-profile attacks against civilians, government officials, and Afghan and coalition military forces," ISAF stated.
"He also runs a training camp for indoctrinating prospective insurgents, and is vital in funding TTP and Haqqani operations," ISAF continued.
"Due to operational security" concerns, ISAF would not tell The Long War Journal if the training camp was in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
In addition to having ties to the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the targeted leader is an Afghan of Pashtun ethnicity and "there are indications of Arab involvement," ISAF told The Long War Journal. ISAF would not disclose, however, whether the "Arab involvement" was a reference to al Qaeda. Arab foreign fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are often members of al Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network frequently has al Qaeda fighters in its ranks. An Omani al Qaeda operative participated in a Haqqani Network suicide assault on a US base in Khost province in June 2012.
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 province's Chaparhar district. Although ISAF has conducted 31 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 31 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 sub-commander 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 Nangarhar's 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.
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.
The Taliban assassinated a member of the Afghan High Peace Council in a complex ambush in Helmand province today. The Taliban have now assassinated three senior members of the peace council since the end of the summer of 2011.
Malim Shah Wali, the head of the Afghan High Peace Council in Helmand, and two bodyguards were killed after the Taliban attacked his convoy as he traveled in the Gereshk district. The Taliban first detonated a roadside bomb, or IED, and then opened fire on Wali's vehicle.
Wali was traveling to a security handover ceremony in Gereshk along with Masoud Bakhtawar, Helmand's deputy provincial governor, when they come under attack. Bakhtawar survived the ambush.
Today's attack took place just one day after the Taliban killed three British soldiers in an IED attack "whilst on a routine patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province," the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense noted.
The attacks in Afghanistan took place as President Barack Obama said that the US is "winding down the war in Afghanistan, we're having success defeating al Qaeda core, and we've kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks."
Wali is the third senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council to have been assassinated by the Taliban in the last year and a half. In September 2011, a Taliban suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former head of the Afghan High Peace Council and an influential politician. The Taliban suicide bomber, who posed as a peace envoy, hid a bomb in his turban and detonated it as he hugged Rabbani in his home in Kabul.
In May 2012, the Taliban assassinated Arsala Rahmani, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council who had served as a deputy education minister during Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Taliban's Mullah Dadullah Front is the likely culprit
While no group has claimed credit for today's assassination of Wali, the attack was likely executed by the Mullah Dadullah Front, a Taliban subgroup that operates in southern Afghanistan and is close to al Qaeda. The Mullah Dadullah Front claimed credit for the May 2012 assassination of Rahmani.
The Mullah Dadullah Front is a powerful wing of the Taliban in the south that has adopted al Qaeda's tactics and ideology, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in December 2010. The Mullah Dadullah Front is led by none other than Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since been promoted as the Taliban's top military commander and co-leader of the Taliban's Quetta Shura. In December 2010, Coalition and Afghan special operations troops captured a senior Mullah Dadullah Front financier and weapons facilitator.
Zakir and other Taliban leaders operate from the Pakistani border city of Chaman in Baluchistan, as the location shields them from US and NATO operations. The Taliban maintain a command and control center in Chaman, but the Pakistani military and intelligence services have refused to move against the Taliban there.
The Mullah Dadullah Front operates largely in the southern Afghan provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan, and is considered the most effective and dangerous Taliban group in the region. The group has been active in attempting to sabotage negotiations between the Afghan government and lower-level Taliban leaders and fighters in the south.
The Taliban subgroup has executed numerous complex attacks, suicide assaults, and assassinations in the region.
Zakir is also responsible for a purge of Taliban leaders who have conducted negotiations with the Afghan government, including Mohammad Ismail, the former Deputy Military Council Chairman for the Taliban's Quetta Shura.
HPC official dead in Helmand explosion, Pajhwok Afghan News
Helmand high peace council chief killed in Taliban attack, Khaama Press
Helmand High Peace Council Chief Killed in Taliban Attack, TOLOnews
Today the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out an airstrike in the Gaza Strip in response to recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. According to a statement on the IDF website, the IAF targeted a "Global Jihad-affiliated terrorist."
The terrorist, Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, was said to have "acted in different Jihad Salafi terror organizations and over the past few years has been a key terror figure, specializing in weapons and working with all of the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip." Reuters reported that Masshal "was believed to be a member of Hamas's national security force, but relatives said he also belonged to a militant Jihadist Salafi organization." Palestinian media reports suggested that Masshal had worked as a "security officer at Shifa hospital in Gaza."
According to the IDF, Masshal, who "manufactured, improved and traded different types of ammunition," was involved in the April 17 rocket attack on Eilat from the Sinai, for which the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) had taken responsibility.
Following the Eilat attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that Israel would "exact a price for this [the attack]; this has been our consistent policy for the past four years and it will serve us here as well." Egypt was reportedly briefed ahead of today's strike.
This afternoon, the MSC released a statement through the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center confirming that Masshal, also known as Abu Ziad, was a member of their organization. "He stepped everywhere there is jihad, wanting to die, so may Allah have mercy on you, Abu Ziad. The enemy sites will miss you, which you didn't hesitate for one day to pound with rockets," the group said.
The MSC statement, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, also said Masshal had held a "high position" in Hamas' Al Qassam Brigades, but he decided to leave the group after Hamas "entered the game of democracy and accepted the abandonment of the divine Shari'ah." Masshal, according to the MSC, previously worked alongside a number of Salafi jihadist leaders in the Gaza Strip including Abu al Walid al Maqdisi and Ashraf al Sabah, two MSC leaders killed in an Israeli airstrike in October 2012. The al Qaeda-linked group also noted that Masshal had previously worked with Abu Abdullah al-Suri (Khalid Banat), a former leader in Jund Ansar Allah, who was killed in clashes with Hamas in August 2009.
During the funeral, Masshal was wrapped in al Qaeda's black flag, which was first used by al Qaeda in Iraq but has been adopted by other al Qaeda affiliates.
In 2012, the Israeli Air Force targeted a number of members of the MSC. On Oct. 7, the IDF killed Tala'at Halil Muhammad Jarbi, a "global jihad operative," and Abdullah Muhammad Hassan Maqawai, a member of the MSC. Maqawai was likely a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Six days later, the IAF targeted and killed Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former emir of Ansar al Sunnah, in an airstrike. The two men were said to be leaders of the MSC.
Following the deaths of al Maqdisi and al Sabah, a number of statements and eulogies were released by jihadist groups and media outlets such as the Global Islamic Media Front, Jaish al Ummah, Masada al Mujahideen, Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and Ansar Jerusalem, among others.
Al Qaeda emir Ayman Al Zawahiri even released a statement, in which he praised al Maqdisi for his "martyrdom" and said that he hoped his death would act as "a motive and incitement to his brothers, his people, his loved ones and the rest of the mujahideen and the Muslims in the environs of Jerusalem and around the world, to give and sacrifice more."
Coalition and Afghan special operations forces targeted "a high-profile attack facilitator" for the Taj Mir Jawad Network during a raid in eastern Afghanistan yesterday. Taj Mir Jawad is a senior commander for the Haqqani Network and also commands the Kabul Attack Network, a jihadist alliance that operates in and around the Afghan capital.
Two "insurgents" were captured during yesterday's raid that targeted the facilitator in the Gardez district in Paktia province, the International Security Assistance Force reported today. ISAF said the "high-profile attack facilitator" is "responsible for providing weapons and funding for his fellow insurgent fighters" and "is currently gathering supplies and fighters for a future attack against Afghan and Coalition forces."
In addition to running the Haqqani Network subgroup that is named after him, Taj Mir Jawad also co-leads the Kabul Attack Network along with Dawood (or Daud), a Taliban commander, military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal in August 2010. Dawood is the Taliban's shadow governor for Kabul. In the US military files released by Wikileaks several years ago, Taj Mir Jawad is identified as a top Haqqani Network leader.
The Kabul Attack Network operates in the capital and in the surrounding provinces of Wardak, Logar, Nangarhar, Laghman, Kapisa, Khost, Paktia, and Paktika. It has executed numerous high-profile attacks in the capital over the years. Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin also participate in operations directed by the Kabul Attack network.
Besides running his subgroup and co-leading the Kabul Attack Network, Jawad also serves as a senior Taliban propagandist and is believed to be one of the personalities behind Zabibullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Taliban who publishes at Voice of Jihad. The Haqqani Network, which is active in eastern, southern, and central Afghanistan, operates under the aegis of the Taliban and releases propaganda through Voice of Jihad.
ISAF has directly targeted the Taj Mir Jawad Network at least once before. In April 2011, ISAF named the group for the first time when it announced a raid that resulted in the capture of a Taliban commander linked to the group [see Threat Matrix report, ISAF targets Taj Mir Jawad Network in Khost].
The Haqqani Network remains a capable foe in Afghanistan despite the surge of American troops that began in 2010 and ended last year. The US did not send a significant number of troops into the Haqqani Network's heartlands in the east, and instead focused efforts on the Taliban in parts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. US commanders said that the Afghan security forces would have to deal with the Haqqani Network, likely long after the US withdraws from Afghanistan.
The US has also eased pressure on the Haqqani Network in its sanctuaries in Pakistan. Despite years of efforts and promises from top US officials and military officers, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, that Pakistan would launch a military operation in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, US officials have given up on putting pressure on Pakistan to take action.
Additionally, although top leaders of the Haqqani Network, including its operational leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, used to be frequently targeted by CIA drone strikes in North Waziristan, targeting of these leaders appears to have dropped off. The last Haqqani Network leader to be hit by a drone strike, Jan Baz Zadran, was killed in October 2011. There have been no reported successful drone strikes against Haqqani Network leaders or commanders since Zadran's death.
The Afghan Taliban announced that this year's spring offensive would begin on April 28 and would focus on suicide assaults on Coalition installations, as well as "insider attacks" against Western personnel.
The Taliban, under the guise of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, announced the "'Khalid bin Waleed' spring operation" on their website, Voice of Jihad, today. The offensive is named after a companion of the Prophet Mohammed and military general whose victories helped establish the first caliphate.
The Taliban indicated that the attacks would focus primarily on the "foreign invaders," or Coalition forces operating under the command of the International Security Assistance Forces. The Taliban stressed that they would use "special military tactics" and "collective martyrdom operations," a reference to suicide assaults, and "insider attacks," or green-on-blue attacks, in which Afghan security forces attack ISAF personnel.
"This year's spring operation, in accordance with its combat nature, will consist of special military tactics quantity and quality wise while successful insider attacks, to eliminate foreign invaders, will be carried out by infiltrating Mujahideen inside enemy bases in a systematic and coordinated manner," the Taliban stated.
"Similarly, collective martyrdom operations on bases of foreign invaders, their diplomatic centers and military airbases will be even further structured while every possible tactic will be utilized in order to detain or inflict heavy casualties on the foreign transgressors," the statement continued.
The Taliban carried out several suicide assaults on major ISAF installations last year, including attacks in Kabul and three other provinces just days after announcing the 2012 spring offensive. The Taliban's most successful suicide assault against an ISAF installation took place at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. A 15-man Taliban team penetrated security at the base, destroyed six Marine Harriers and damaged two others, and killed the squadron commander and a sergeant.
Insider, or green-on-blue attacks, spiked last year, with 44 such attacks reported; these attacks accounted for 15% of Coalition deaths. There have been four insider attacks reported so far this year. The Taliban claimed last August that they had created a "Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration" department to infiltrate Afghan forces or turn personnel against their Western partners.
The Taliban's announcement today also warned Afghans to "stay away from the bases of the invaders, their residential areas or working for them in order to avoid civilian losses." Additionally, the Taliban called on "all the officials and workers of the stooge Karzai regime to break away from this decaying administration."
Finally, the Taliban called on Afghan "religious figures, tribal elders and all the influential figures of society" to discourage men from "joining the ranks of America's mercenary programs (army, police, arbaki [tribal militias])...."
Each spring, the Taliban have issued similar statements about their planned offensives, and the targets of the operations have also been similar. In an announcement of the Al Badar spring offensive in 2011, the Taliban said they would would focus on "military centers, places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country." The Taliban said that their tactics would include "group and martyrdom seeking attacks," or suicide attacks and assaults; "group offensives," or massed assaults; and "city attacks," ambushes, and IED attacks.
Last year's spring offensive, dubbed Al Farooq, also indicated the Taliban would attack ISAF personnel, but differed from the previous year by putting a stronger emphasis on targeting Afghan security personnel and government officials.
The recent stronger emphasis on the targeting of foreign personnel is an indication that the Taliban are seeking to score a propaganda victory by attacking Coalition personnel as the bulk of forces are withdrawn this year. ISAF is ending combat operations and withdrawing its military forces by the end of 2014 and transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces.
On April 22, Canadian officials said the plotting of Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser to destroy a passenger train traveling between the United States and Canada was linked to al Qaeda's network inside Iran.
The two suspects had received "support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran" in the form of "direction and guidance," Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said. Iran's Foreign Minister called Canadian officials' claims linking the plotters to al Qaeda operatives in Iran "ridiculous."
Over the past few days, new details have emerged on the two suspects who were taken into custody on April 22, and authorities may be preparing to announce the arrest of additional individuals.
Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, was born in Tunisia, and is believed to be the mastermind of the terror plot. Esseghaier, a doctoral student at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) in Montreal, has a bachelor's degree in Industrial Biology and a master's degree in Industrial Biotechnology, according to his LinkedIn page. Esseghaier's LinkedIn page also displayed an image of al Qaeda's black flag, which was first used by al Qaeda in Iraq but has been adopted by other al Qaeda affiliates.
During his court appearance on April 23, Esseghaier, who has been in Canada only five years, denounced the court's authority. "This criminal code is not a holy book,"said Esseghaier, who declined a court-appointed lawyer. In court documents, Esseghaier was listed as homeless, and he "was granted permanent residency under Quebec's skilled worker program" in 2012, according to the National Post.
Esseghaier's behavior has drawn the ire of some in the past, according to Canadian press reports. For example, at some point after 2010, Esseghaier ripped down posters at INRS that included a picture of a woman. In another incident, he reportedly told another Muslim from Tunisia that they should not pay taxes to Canadian authorities. Prior to his eviction in December, neighbors complained that Esseghaier "prayed loudly and at all hours of the day" in his apartment. And last spring, Esseghaier reportedly engaged in erratic behavior during a flight to Mexico, which was monitored by undercover surveillance officers, according to CBC News.
Yesterday US officials revealed to Reuters that Esseghaier had traveled to Iran at least once in the past two years. According to Reuters, Esseghaier's time in Iran "was directly relevant to the investigation of the alleged plot." Additionally, sources involved in the investigation told the Toronto Star that prior to arriving in Canada in 2008 on a student visa, Esseghaier had met with an al Qaeda operative.
Raed Jaser, 35, was born in Abu Dhabi but never obtained UAE citizenship, and he reportedly travels on a Jordanian passport. In 1993, the Jaser family arrived in Canada on fake passports after claiming they had been "terrorized" by anti-immigration groups in Germany, where they had been living for at least two years. While his parents were not given refugee status, according to the National Post, through Canada's "deferred program" they were allowed to stay and eventually obtained Canadian citizenship.
Raed Jaser did not obtain citizenship, however, due to a criminal record that included five counts of fraud, among other charges. In 2004, Canadian authorities tried to deport Jaser, but "as a stateless Palestinian, he could not be sent to any other country," the National Post reported.
Eight years later, Jaser was granted permanent resident status. Around the same time he was given the new status, Jaser had a death threat conviction from 2001 pardoned, according to the National Post.
In 2011, according to the Globe and Mail, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) received reports that Jaser "was spreading extremist propaganda to youth in Toronto." Press reports suggest that Jaser's father, Mohammed, approached a Muslim leader in the community between 2009 and 2011 over concerns of his son's "understanding of Islam."
Additional arrests on the way?
Recent press reports indicate that authorities may be preparing to make new announcements related to the plot, including the possible arrest of an individual in the United States.
On April 23, CTV News reported that at least two suspects in the New York area were under surveillance but not yet arrested. On the same day, CBC News stated that authorities were "monitoring a broader network of terrorism suspects beyond" Esseghaier and Jaser.
The following day, the Globe and Mail similarly reported that "[a]uthorities are investigating more suspects" and that the FBI had questioned a suspect earlier this week. On the same day, the National Post reported that a case related to Jaser and Esseghaeir "was expected to be dealt with in the Southern District of New York" soon.
Yesterday the National Post reported that "the FBI is holding a third man in New York." According to a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, the "third man" might be "a Tanzanian national who is cooperating" and no formal announcement regarding his arrest may occur.
Although the FBI has not yet confirmed the report, a US official told Reuters that there was likely "another shoe to drop" in the case. However, one source cautioned that "[a]t the end of the day we may end up with just two people charged, we may end up with more, it's too premature to say well there's going to be half a dozen or whatever," according to the Toronto Star.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) intercepted an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) this afternoon. The drone, which Israeli officials say belonged to Hezbollah and took off from Lebanon, was intercepted over the Mediterranean Sea, five nautical miles west of Haifa and at an altitude of 6,000 feet.
A statement released by the IDF on the incident said: "UAVs pose a serious threat to the State of Israel's security. The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to violate Israel's sovereignty or harm its security." Similarly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is prepared to deal with any threat posed by Syria or Lebanon in the air, land, or sea.
In addition, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said that "[b]y way of the Hezbollah, the Iranians are trying us and checking us.... We will respond at the point which we believe to be appropriate, but there will be a response."
Hezbollah has denied that it sent the drone. "Hezbollah denies sending any unmanned drone towards occupied Palestine," a headline on Hezbollah's Al-Manar said this evening. Al-Manar did not provide any additional information. Earlier today, a Hezbollah official told the Associated Press that the Iranian-backed terror group did not have any information on the incident but would release a statement "if it had something" to say.
Today's interception is the second such action by the Israeli Air Force in the past year. On Oct. 6, the IAF shot down a drone, which Hezbollah took responsibility for, near the Yatir Forest in the northern Negev.
When Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, announced that Hezbollah was behind the October drone, he said, "It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine.... This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want."
Hezbollah has used drones against Israel on a number of occasions in recent years. During the 2006 war with Hezbollah, the Israeli Air Force shot down a number of Hezbollah drones, and in 2004 an Iranian-made drone spent approximately five minutes in Israeli territory. In April 2005, a Hezbollah drone (Mirsad-1) was sent over Israel. According to a secret cable released by Wikileaks, Syrian intelligence officers may have helped Hezbollah with this launch.
Last April, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that "Hezbollah has been allocating increased resources towards bolstering its drone unit."
The Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group, has released a video that shows young children firing weapons while at a training camp in Pakistan.
The video was released by Islami Awazi, a propaganda arm of the Turkistan Islamic Party. A clip of the video was published on the LiveLeak video website.
In the video, the children, some of whom appear to be no older than six, are shown firing handguns, AK-47 assault rifles, and a PKM machine-gun from various positions. At one point, 13 children are seen on line, firing AK-47s while standing and lying down.
As the children fire their weapons, the black flag of the Taliban and a light blue banner used by the Turkistan Islamic Party can be seen flying in the background.
The video is similar to others released by allied jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, and a jihadist alliance called the Fedayeen-i-Islam. All of these groups are known to run camps in North and South Waziristan that train children.
The Turkistan Islamic Party operates in China as well as Central and South Asia and is thought to have scores of fighters in Pakistan's tribal areas and in Afghanistan. TIP fighters have been killed by Coalition forces in Afghanistan and by US drone strikes in Pakistan. Abu Ubaydah Abdullah al Adam, a senior al Qaeda leader who serves as the terror group's intelligence chief, has written several biographies for TIP fighters killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The group's leaders also hold senior positions in al Qaeda. Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the slain former leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party, was a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council. And Abdul Shakoor al Turkistani, who was rumored to have been killed in a drone strike last year, is also thought to have been appointed to the Shura Majlis, in addition to being designated commander of al Qaeda forces in the tribal areas.
Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Abdul Haq ran a training camp for his recruits at al Qaeda's camp in Tora Bora in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province [see LWJ report, The Uighurs in their own words]. He later reestablished camps for the Turkistan Islamic Party in Pakistan's lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. Twenty-two Turkistan Islamic Party operatives were ultimately captured and detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility; since then, 17 of them have been released or transferred to allied governments, and five have been approved for release but have refused resettlement in volunteer countries.
A screen shot of the header of Chiheb Esseghaier's Linkedin page, which includes an image of al Qaeda's banner. The image has since been removed. Source: Linkedin/The Long War Journal.
Canadian police officials have linked the plotting of two Muslim men to destroy a Toronto passenger train to al Qaeda's network inside Iran. The two suspects, neither of whom are Canadian citizens, were taken into custody yesterday and are facing terrorism charges. One of the suspects had placed an image of al Qaeda's banner in a social media site. The image has since been removed.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said yesterday that the two suspects, identified as Chiheb Esseghaier, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, of Toronto, received "support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran" in the form of "direction and guidance." Their plot called for the destruction of a train bound from the US to Canada, in an effort to sow terror and harm the economies of both countries.
Esseghaier, a doctoral student at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, has a bachelors degree in Industrial Biology and a masters degree in Industrial Biotechnology, according to his Linkedin page. He lists Nanotechnology as one of his "Skills & Expertise." He attended college in Tunis and is thought to be a Tunisian.
Before the image was taken down sometime last night, Esseghaier's Linkedin page displayed in image of al Qaeda's black flag. This flag was first used by al Qaeda in Iraq but has been adopted by other al Qaeda affiliates.
Iran denies links to al Qaeda, but links are well established
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's Foreign Minister, said the claims of the Canadian police linking the plotters to al Qaeda in Iran were "ridiculous."
"If the news that you are announcing is true, this is the most hilarious thing I've heard in my 64 year [sic]," Salehi said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency.
He also described al Qaeda in Iran as "a new fake issue and a really ridiculous word."
Iran's ties to al Qaeda are well documented, however. In recent years, the US government has added several Iran-based al Qaeda leaders and operatives to its list of specially designated global terrorists, and even noted a "secret deal" between the Iranian government and al Qaeda.
In January 2009, the Treasury Department designated senior al Qaeda members operating in Iran. The January 2009 designation included Mustafa Hamid, the father-in-law of top al Qaeda operative Saif al Adel; Saad bin Laden, one of Osama's sons, who was later killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan; Muhammad Rab'a al Sayid Al Bahtiyti; and Ali Saleh Husain.
Treasury described Hamid as "a senior al Qaeda associate who served as a primary interlocutor between al Qaeda and the Government of Iran." During the 1990s, Hamid "reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many al Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan." Hamid also "passed communications between Osama bin Laden and the Government of Iran." In late 2001, Hamid negotiated with the Iranians to relocate al Qaeda families to Iranian soil. Saif al Adel, Hamid's son-in-law, was among them. Al Adel has been wanted since late 1998 for his involvement in al Qaeda's embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
According to the 2009 designation, Saad bin Laden "facilitated the travel of Osama bin Laden's family members from Afghanistan to Iran" beginning in late 2001. He also "made key decisions for al Qaeda and was part of a small group of al Qaeda members that was involved in managing the terrorist organization from Iran."
In July 2011, the Treasury Dept. designated an al Qaeda leader known as Yasin al Suri along with five other terrorists who operate from Iranian soil to move funds and recruits from Iran's neighboring Gulf countries to South Asia and elsewhere. Al Suri's network assists not only senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, but also al Qaeda in Iraq.
The Treasury Dept. said that al Suri's network operates as part of a "secret deal" between al Qaeda and the Iranian government. In December 2011, US authorities announced a $10 million reward for information leading to al Suri's capture.
Also included in the July 2011 designation was Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who commanded al Qaeda in northern Pakistan. Rahman was killed one month later, in a US drone strike in August 2011. The Treasury Dept. noted that he "was previously appointed by Osama bin Laden to serve as al Qaeda's emissary in Iran, a position which allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials." Rahman had received safe haven inside Iran after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In February 2012, the Treasury Dept. designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) "for its support to terrorist groups." Al Qaeda and its affiliate, al Qaeda in Iraq, are among the terrorist groups supported by the MOIS, which is Iran's chief intelligence agency.
"Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime's abhorrent crackdown on its own population," Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen explained in a press release. "In addition, we are designating the MOIS for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Hizballah and HAMAS, again exposing the extent of Iran's sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy."
The MOIS is assisting al Qaeda in a variety of ways. According to Treasury, the "MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports."
In addition, the MOIS has "provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)...and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives."
Iran also supports the Taliban
Treasury has also noted Iran's support for the Taliban, as in August 2010 it added two top Iranian Qods Force commanders to its list of specially designated global terrorists, for directly providing support for the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
General Hossein Musavi is the commander of Qods Force's Ansar Corps, "whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan," the Treasury stated. "As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban." Colonel Hasan Mortezavi is described as a senior Qods Force officer who "provides financial and material support to the Taliban."
Qods Forces' Ansar Corps is the command that is assigned to direct operations in Afghanistan. The Ansar Corps is based in Mashad in northeastern Iran. Al Qaeda is known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashad, and also uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to move its operatives into Afghanistan [see LWJ report, Return to Jihad].
Iran's support for the Taliban can be seen in Coalition and Afghan military operations against the Afghan terror group. Coalition and Afghan forces targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in western Afghanistan between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in early February 2011; LWJ's queries to ISAF on this subject have gone unanswered [see LWJ report, Taliban suicide assault team kills 36 Afghans in western city].
Coalition and Afghan special operations teams killed a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader who coordinated operations with the Taliban and directed suicide operations in Balkh province. The raid that targeted the IMU leader is the 20th reported by ISAF against the al Qaeda-linked group so far this year.
The IMU leader who was killed during the April 20 raid in the Balkh district in the province of the same name was identified as Feda Mohammad, the International Security Assistance Force noted yesterday in a press release.
ISAF said that Mohammed, who is also known as Omari, has "a long history of planning attacks against civilians and Afghan and coalition forces."
"Prior to Afghan New Year's celebrations in March, Mohammad coordinated a failed attack against public gatherings, specifically targeting the Balkh provincial governor and other government officials with suicide bombers," ISAF said.
The IMU leader also executed "coordinated operations between IMU and Taliban networks, and has extensive experience facilitating the movement of improvised explosive devices throughout the area," ISAF said in a press release that first announced the raid on Saturday.
The IMU has integrated its operations with the Taliban in the Afghan north and maintains its base of support across the border in Pakistan. IMU leaders have served in the Taliban's shadow government in the north.
The IMU remains entrenched in northern Afghanistan despite years of persistent operations against the terror group. Several senior IMU leaders, including two of the terror group's top commanders for Afghanistan, have been killed since ISAF stepped up operations against the terror group in the summer of 2010.
The IMU also operates in eastern Afghanistan, but so far this year, all of the raids against the group have occurred in the north. Based on a study by The Long War Journal, this year the majority of operations targeting the IMU have occurred in neighboring Baghlan and Kunduz provinces (six each), while four have occurred in Takhar, and two in Balkh, and one in Jawzjan.
Early 2013 has seen the highest rate of operations against the IMU so far in the war. Last week there were six raids, which resulted in the death of Mohammed, and the capture of one senior IMU commander and two facilitators. When asked about the increase in operations, ISAF told The Long War Journal that the start of the Afghan fighting season and intelligence gains were the cause.
Abu Ubaydah Abdullah al Adam, a senior al Qaeda leader who serves as the intelligence chief for the terror group, is reported to have been killed in a recent US drone strike in Pakistan's tribal areas. The report is unconfirmed, and al Qaeda has not issued an official statement regarding al Adam.
Two jihadists, identified as Al Wathiq Billah and Barod, posted on Twitter on April 20 that al Adam was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained the tweets. Barod "indicated he was killed that day," according to SITE.
No drone strikes were reported in Pakistan on April 20, but an attack was reported on April 17 in South Waziristan. The last US drone strike reported in North Waziristan took place on April 14 in the Datta Khel area, which is a known haven for al Qaeda's top leaders. Several senior al Qaeda leaders and military commanders have been killed in drone strikes in the Datta Khel area.
The two tweets were followed by an update on Twitter from Sanafi al Nasr, a Saudi al Qaeda leader who is on his home country's list of 85 most wanted terrorist and who writes for Vanguards of Khorasan. Al Nasr, who is also known as Abdul Muhsin Abdullah al Sharikh, tweeted that he prayed that al Adam would be granted martyrdom and that he could join him soon in paradise.
The two jihadists' claims that al Adam was killed in a drone strike, and al Nasr's follow-up tweet, are not official confirmation that he is indeed dead. Al Qaeda has not released an official martyrdom statement announcing his death.
US intelligence officials involved in the targeting of al Qaeda's network in the Afghan and Pakistan region who were contacted by The Long War Journal would neither confirm nor deny the reports of his death, but said they are aware of the reports.
One intelligence official said that al Adam "is on the target list" and is considered to be a "very dangerous operative."
"He is essentially al Qaeda's intelligence and internal security chief," the US intelligence official said. He "appears to have replaced" Mohammad Khalil Hasan al Hakaymah, who is better known as Abu Jihad al Masri, the former al Qaeda intelligence chief who was killed in a US drone strike in 2008.
Several US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal refute the steady stream of press reports that al Qaeda's leadership is "shattered" and "broken."
"While [al Adam] is not a household name, he is in the top tiers of al Qaeda's leadership cadre," one official said. "He demonstrates that al Qaeda continues to field a deep bench of leaders and operatives who can be called when their predecessors are taken out."
In the Afghan-Pakistan theater, al Qaeda has often tapped the plethora of allied Pakistani jihadist groups to fill leadership voids caused when US drones kill off what one US official has described as al Qaeda's "legacy leaders," the leaders with several decades of experience working inside al Qaeda. Additionally, there are numerous leaders and operatives like al Adam who may not be "famous" like other al Qaeda leaders but who still play a critical role in the organization.
Al Adam served in al Qaeda prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US, and is linked to some of al Qaeda's most notorious leaders.
A US intelligence official said that al Adam had worked for Abu Zubaydah (senior al Qaeda leader and operations chief, captured in Pakistan in 2002); Abu Hamza Rabia (external operations chief, killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2005); and Atiyah Abd al Rahman (general manager, killed in a US drone strike in 2011).
In an article in Vanguards of the Khorasan, al Adam claimed he had served with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, long before he opened a front against the US in Iraq in 2003. Al Adam said he had befriended Zarqawi at an al Qaeda training camp in Jalalabad in Nangarhar, well before the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. He also claimed he had hosted Ayman al Zawahiri at his home in Afghanistan sometime in the 1990s. While al Adam's claims may seem fanciful, his account was published by Vanguards of the Khorasan, which is al Qaeda's official magazine intended for internal use.
Al Adam is a Palestinian and was raised in Saudi Arabia.
The writings and speeches of al Adam
Al Qaeda has released on several jihadist forums numerous statements, writings, and audiotapes of al Adam that focused primarily on security and intelligence issues as well as the Arab Spring. Additionally he has published martyrdom statements and articles at Islamic Turkistan Magazine, a magazine produced by the al Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party.
Writing under the name Abu Ubaydah al Maqdisi, al Adam appeared in the introductory issue of Vanguards of the Khorasan, published in November 2005. In that edition he published a martyrdom statement. He also wrote martyrdom statements in the 3rd, 7th, 9th, 13th, and 19th editions of Vanguards of the Khorasan. In the 7th and 9th editions, he eulogized Zarqawi and Rabia, respectively. In the 19th edition, published on Sept. 12, 2012, al Adam wrote about Osama bin Laden's legacy and the Arab Spring.
In 2008, a lengthy book titled "Martyrs in a Time of Alienation" was published by al Adam under the name Abu Ubaydah al Maqdisi. The book provides biographies of 120 al Qaeda fighters killed during fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among those listed are Zakariya al Sabbar, a member of the Hamburg Cell that furnished several key hijackers and leaders for the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, and Abu Hamza Rabia.
In 2010, al Adam released a series of audiotapes titled "The Terrorism Industry" that advised jihadists on security and intelligence issues. In the tapes, he recommended that jihadists take hostages for ransom, and noated that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Afghan Taliban have been very successful doing this. He also said that jihadists must be prepared to kill hostages if there is a risk they will be lost. He also urged jihadists to conduct attacks on the US and the United Kingdom.
In one of the tapes, al Adam noted that he was a lieutenant to Abu Zubaydah, who had charged him with maintaining al Qaeda's relationship with tribesmen in Pakistan's tribal areas. Al Adam distributed al Qaeda funds to Pakistani tribesmen to win their support. Al Adam said that he had traveled with Abu Zubaydah to Pakistan following the overthrow of the Taliban after the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.
Al Adam also provided advice to al Qaeda affiliates on how to maintain relationships with local tribes and clans in areas where the affiliates hope to impose sharia, or Islamic law. In July 2012, he wrote "Awakening Councils of Apostasy and the Means to Stop it" to address the rise in local opposition to al Qaeda and jihadist movements. His practical advice included: respecting the local religion and customs; imposing sharia in phases as opposed to quickly and ruthlessly (as al Qaeda has done in Iraq and Mali); refraining from excessively taxing the locals; and, at times, showing mercy to those being punished.
In August 2012, al Adam waded into the sectarian aspect of the Syrian civil war when he advised Sunnis to execute Alawites, a Shia minority sect that supports President Bashir al Assad.
"For true Muslims this combating sect that is protected by arms and power can only be met with the sword alone," al Adam said in a statement that was released on the Ansar al Mujahideen Network and obtained by The Long War Journal. "Therefore, dear Sunni Muslim brother, do not consult anyone about killing Alawites and looting their properties; it is a right and a duty to defend the repressed Sunnis in the land ...."
Shortly afterward he issued another article clarifying that statement, saying that only Alawites responsible for killing Sunnis should be killed. But he then said, "Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of this infidel sect is currently fighting Muslims."
In January 2012, al Adam released a book titled "The Worthy Outcomes and Gains of Washington and Manhattan Raids" under the name Abu Ubaydah al Maqdisi. The book's introduction was written by Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda's former general manager who was killed in a US drone strike in 2010.
In that book al Adam called the suicide bomber "the Islamic deterrent weapon" and "a strategic option for deterring the transgressors." He then noted that after the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, the use of suicide bombers proliferated in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Al Adam's last known public statement was released in February 2013, and titled 'Message to the New Jihadists."
In that statement, which was obtained by The Long War Journal, he said that al Qaeda is fighting "primarily an intelligence security war."
"Its victor is who scores strategic hits against the vital key structures of the other party," he continues. He then advises "the newcomer, to the jihadist fronts scattered all over the world," to practice basic fieldcraft. He says that new jihadists must: maintain secrecy and tell no one of their intent; ensure that they have proper security when entering new battlefields; rely on established smuggling routes to enter new countries but remember that smugglers often work with government forces; and avoid communications with relatives while in countries where waging jihad or while in neighboring countries.
In addition to his publications in al Qaeda's official media outlets, al Adam has written written at least five articles for Islamic Turkistan Magazine, the official magazine of the al Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party, which is based in Pakistan's tribal areas and also wages jihad in Afghanistan. He issued biographies for slain fighters in the August 2011 edition and the April and June 2012 editions, as well as an article on the Pakistani military in the August 2011 edition and the importance of unity in the April 2012 edition.
Vilayat Dagestan, a jihadist group that is part of the Caucasus Emirate, an al Qaeda-linked group operating in the North Caucasus, has issued a statement on the Boston Marathon bombings.
The group released the statement on its main website earlier today, citing "speculation" in the press that one of the bombers "could be affiliated with the mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, in particular, the mujahideen of Dagestan." The statement has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The organization's statement references Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two brothers responsible for the bombings, who reportedly traveled to Dagestan and Chechnya last year.
Vilayat Dagestan does not deny any connection to Tsarnaev, nor does it say that he was known to them prior to the bombings. Instead, the group says that it is "at war with Russia" and "not fighting against the United States of America."
Moreover, Vilayat Dagestan says that if the US government is "really interested in discovering the true organizers of the explosions in Boston, without being complicit in a Russian show, they should focus on the involvement of the Russian special services in the event."
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal say that a number of jihadist groups based in the Caucasus and Chechnya are being investigated. However, the investigation is still in its earliest stages and it is not yet known whether any of them played a role, directly or indirectly, in the Boston bombings.
It is far too early to draw any firm conclusions one way or the other, these officials say.
According to NBC 4 New York, Tamerlan Tsarnaev left New York for Russia on Jan. 12, 2012 and returned on July 17.
Subsequent reports indicate that Tsarnaev traveled to Dagestan and Chechnya during those months and it is this trip that has drawn suspicion.
In August 2012, one month after returning to the United States, Tsarnaev posted a page on YouTube. Videos disseminated by Vilayat Dagestan were among the jihadist propaganda and messages posted by Tsarnaev.
By itself, of course, this does not mean that Tsarnaev became associated with the group during his 2012 trip to Dagestan. US intelligence and counterterrorism officials are currently attempting to build a dossier of Tsarnaev's overseas connections, including any possible ties to Vilayat Dagestan, according to authorities contacted by The Long War Journal.
Warning from Russian government
Vilayat Dagestan's attempt to blame the "Russian special services" for the Boston bombings is inconsistent with the available evidence on Tamerlan Tsarnaev's sympathies and ideology.
In early 2011, the Russian government warned the FBI about Tsarnaev's suspected ties to Chechen terrorists. The FBI issued a statement concerning this warning late last week.
The FBI said it was informed by a "foreign government" that Tsarnaev "was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups." This government requested additional information from the FBI on Tsarnaev.
The FBI added that its review of the available evidence at the time "did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011." The statement concludes: "The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government."
The Washington Post and other press outlets have reported that the warning "came from the Russian government," which was "concerned about Tsarnaev's potential ties to Chechen terrorists."
It is not known if the Russian government had any specific information tying Tsarnaev to terrorists.
The evidence that has come to light since the Boston bombings shows that Tsarnaev was at least sympathetic to the jihadists' anti-Russian cause. It is not known if there was more to the sympathies.
In its statement on the Boston bombings, Vilayat Dagestan says that "by the order Doku Umarov, the Emir of the Caucasus, it is prohibited to carry out strikes on civilian targets." But terrorists acting under Umarov's orders have struck civilian targets repeatedly in the past.
The United Nations reports, for instance, that Umarov was one of the "main organizers" of the deadly Beslan school siege in early September 2004 and the attacks on Moscow metro stations in March 2010.
At this point, the inquiry into Tamerlan Tsarnaev's background and activities is wide open. The possibility that he made contact with any one of several groups remains under investigation. It is also possible that he had no substantive ties to these jihadist organizations.
The US launched a drone strike against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula today in central Yemen, killing two AQAP operatives. The strike is the third recorded in the country in the past six days.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched several missiles at a compound in the Wadi Abida area of Marib province, Yemeni officials told AFP.
Tribal officials then said that two Yemeni troops and another AQAP fighter were killed during clashes that followed. "A cache of weapons was found at the site" of the strike, according to Reuters.
No senior AQAP operatives or leaders are reported to have been killed in today's strike.
The strike in Marib is the third recorded in Yemen over the past six days. On April 17, US drones struck twice in the Oussab al Ali area, a mountainous region located between the provinces of Damar, Ibb, and Hodeida. An AQAP leader known as Hamed Radman and four fighters are reported to have been killed on April 17.
Over the past 10 months, the US has begun to target AQAP outside of the traditional strongholds of Abyan and Shabwah provinces in the south. Of the 28 strikes against AQAP since the beginning of June 2012 that have been recorded by The Long War Journal, only four have hit AQAP in Abyan and Shabwah. The other 24 strikes have targeted AQAP operatives in the provinces of Aden, Al Baydah, Al Jawf, Hadramout, Marib, Saada, and Sana'a (it is unclear if the April 17 strikes took place in Damar, Ibb, or Hodeida). Of the 18 strikes that were conducted between January 2012 and the end of May, 10 occurred in Abyan and Shabwah.
The US has launched eight drone strikes in Yemen so far this year. In 2012, the US launched 42 drone strikes in Yemen against AQAP and its political front, Ansar al Sharia. The previous year, the US launched 10 drone and air strikes against the al Qaeda affiliate.
Although five senior AQAP operatives were killed in strikes in Yemen in 2012, the group's top leadership cadre remains intact. In January, the Yemeni government claimed that Said al Shihri, the deputy emir of AQAP, died following an attack last fall; AQAP has not confirmed his death, however, and recently released a statement that hinted he may be alive.
The US has targeted both senior AQAP operatives who pose a direct threat to the US, and low-level fighters and local commanders who are battling the Yemeni government. This trend was first identified by The Long War Journal in the spring of 2012 [see LWJ report, US drone strike kills 8 AQAP fighters, from May 10, 2012]. Obama administration officials have claimed, however, that the drones are targeting only those AQAP leaders and operatives who pose a direct threat to the US homeland, and not those fighting AQAP's local insurgency against the Yemeni government.
For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2013.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has confirmed that a local commander linked to a 2008 attack on the US Embassy in Sana'a was killed in a drone strike last November. The terror group accused a father and son of planting a tracking device on the commander's vehicle that allowed the unmanned US strike aircraft to hunt him down.
In a statement released on jihadist forums on April 18, AQAP announced that Adnan al Qadhi, a commander who operated in the capital of Sana'a, and Sheikh Abu Radwan were killed in a drone strike. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Qadhi and two of his bodyguards, Rabiee Lahib and Radwan al Hashidi, who appears to be Sheikh Abu Radwan, were first reported killed on Nov. 8, one day after the US launched the airstrike in a village just south of Sana'a [see LWJ report, US drone strike near Yemeni capital kills AQAP commander, 2 fighters].
Al Qadhi is thought to have been involved in the 2008 bombing at the US Embassy in Sana'a, according to Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee. Al Qadhi "was a lieutenant colonel in the Yemeni army before he joined Al Qaeda," Arrabyee reported. He was arrested after the 2008 Embassy bombing, but freed due to his connections with Yemen's top leaders. Al Qadhi's family is from the same village as then President Ali Saleh, and al Qadhi served in a unit under Ali Muhsin, a powerful Yemeni general who helped bring Saleh to power.
AQAP said al Qadhi and Abu Radwan were "martyred by American missile guided by a chip planted on Sheikh Adnan al Qadhi."
"A few days after their martyrdom, Allah enabled the mujahideen to get hold of the spy responsible," AQAP continued.
Video of a father and his young son admitting to planting a "chip" on al Qadhi's vehicle was then shown. The father said that four Yemeni military officers paid him to have his son place the tracking device on al Qadhi.
AQAP then tried and convicted the father in a sharia, or Islamic, court for "the killing of Sheikh Adnan al Qadhi and Sheikh Abu Radwan (may Allah accept them), by exploiting the innocence of his young son Barq and deceiving him to plant two electronic chips on Sheikh Adnan al Qadhi, which guided the American planes to identify his location and kill him with directed missiles."
The Yemeni terror group did not indicate the punishment that would be meted out. However, in the past, AQAP beheaded three "spies" for planting tracking chips to guide US drones to their targets [see LWJ report, AQAP's Ansar al Sharia executes 3 US 'spies'].
Additionally, AQAP announced that the four Yemeni military officers, identified as "Major Gen. Abdallah Hamuud al-Jabry, Major Khalid Ghleis, Major Khali al-'Awbali, and Adjutant Jawwaas," are "wanted for justice." AQAP routinely assassinates Yemeni military and intelligence officials.
A civilian looks at a DOK-KING MV-4 Mine Clearance System during a US Army patrol in the Zangabad area of Panjwai district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan on April 9. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.
On April 7, the members of Third Platoon of Comanche Company, 4-9 Infantry set out from Forward Operating Base Zangabad on a reconnaissance and security patrol of the area. They were headed into a village the men had dubbed "Bringallzai" (its real name is Korozai), the nickname a mishmash of the surnames of Sergeant First Class Eric Brew, the platoon sergeant, and First Lieutenant Aubrey Ingalls, the platoon leader.
The soldiers left the main gate of the FOB, walked down a paved road for roughly 100 meters, and cut onto a dirt path that wove through the characteristic terrain of Panjwai district: grape fields riddled with symmetrical ridges and deep irrigation ditches, a series of mud-walled qalats, a Pashtun graveyard flying colorful flags honoring the dead, and a gorgeous sea of red and white poppy blossoms. The men walked in a rigid, single-file line to minimize their chances of stepping on a buried mine. And they were led through the rural maze by a large robot.
An Afghan farmer observing the US patrol through the pathways of his compound shot the remote-controlled, tank-treaded machine a quizzical look. A row of heavy flails dangled from an adjustable scoop on its front, capable of churning the soil for bombs. "Please don't damage the fields ... please don't damage the walls to my house with that," the farmer asked the Americans through an interpreter.
When the man was asked what kind of crops he was growing, he mentioned "wheat and grapes," ignoring the large, illegal poppy field adjacent to his home. When specifically asked about the poppies, the farmer dismissively said, "Some poor people grow that." Finally, when pressed by this reporter about whether the illicit field had escaped eradication by the government because of payoffs to Afghan security forces, he replied coyly, "I'm not sure, but [the growers] might pay to the Afghan National Army or the Afghan Uniform Police." The conversation ended with his declaration that security in the area is good and getting better.
A few minutes later, a sustained volume of small arms fire erupted about 500 meters to the northeast of the patrol. The bullets weren't directed at the soldiers, so the men merely paused to listen or looked curiously through their scopes, and called the nearby gunfight in on the radio. "Wrath," the air support element consisting of one Apache and two Kiowa helicopters orbiting overhead, speculated, "Maybe they're shooting at us." As it turned out, the insurgents had another target: a checkpoint manned by officers with the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) had been engaged from a treeline about 150 meters away, and the Afghan cops returned fire at the insurgents. Another American unit traveling through the area stumbled upon the engagement, and quickly joined in with their weapons.
In some areas of operations, in some conflicts, a contact with insurgents merely 500 meters distant might stimulate nearby US platoons to maneuver on the enemy. But not that day, and not in Panjwai: 3rd Platoon wasn't certain about the nature of the gunfire, in an area manned by four different Afghan security forces; no one had called for assistance; moving quickly through the rows of grape fields filled with crumbling mounds and deep holes is difficult; and the district is littered with explosive booby traps. Charging headlong after mysterious gunfire through fields and pathways that have not been carefully cleared of mines is a poor proposition in Kandahar.
Members of Third Platoon of Comanche Company, 4-9 Infantry and local civilians react to the sound of a firefight taking place about 500 meters away on April 7. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.
Nearly five months before, on Dec. 10, 2012, a US patrol conducted by 3rd Platoon of Bayonet Company, 1-38 Infantry was leaving the village of Loi Kola in the Sperwan area of Panjwai district when bullets began cracking over the formation. According to an after-action narrative, the unit and its Afghan Army partners "began taking accurate and sustained small arms fire from a grape hut and subsequent tree line approximately 150 meters to the south." When the soldiers reacted toward available cover, Staff Sergeant Wesley R. Williams stepped on a buried pressure-plate IED. The explosion amputated both of his legs and caused catastrophic injuries to the remainder of his lower body. Two nearby soldiers were also seriously injured by shrapnel and the blast wave, and an Afghan soldier elsewhere in the patrol was hit in the fusillade of enemy machine gun fire.
The platoon continued to react. Various soldiers along the line returned fire at the suspected source of the attack, while two men, Private First Class Breilan A. Rosenberg and Staff Sergeant Russell A. Ho, distinguished themselves with their actions. Rosenberg, the platoon's Line Medic, heard the cries of "Medic!" and ran 150 meters to the front of the formation. Under "heavy, accurate and sustained" fire from AK-47s , RPGs, and at least one PKM light machine gun, he assessed the four casualties, and "rapidly applied three tourniquets, one inguinal pressure dressing and additional lower abdominal packing to [Staff Sergeant] Williams'... pelvic region."
Meanwhile, Staff Sergeant Ho, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team leader, also ran to the front of the line with his "Minehound CIED (Counter IED)" detector to assess the nature of the explosion and clear the area of secondary bombs. While still under enemy fire, "Ho single handedly cleared over 200 square meters in the initial push to treat the casualties and recover sensitive items." The staff sergeant, "on his own initiative," then led his fellow soldiers out of their static position as he swept his detector back and forth over the ground, clearing a path to a landing zone for a medevac helicopter.
Once there, he cleared the LZ and the area surrounding the landing site, including several fighting positions that would allow his fellow soldiers to protect the aircraft. The medevac successfully landed after several aborted attempts under fire, and Ho took the point position of the patrol once again, leading his platoon to link up with supporting forces. Rosenberg and Ho would subsequently be awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor device for their actions. But despite the heroic efforts, as well as those of the medevac helicopter crew, Staff Sergeant Williams succumbed to his wounds after arriving at Kandahar Airfield.
The events of Dec. 10 illustrate some of the tactical challenges faced by US and Afghan soldiers in Kandahar province. Buried mines litter the fields and footpaths of Panjwai district, as the Taliban attempt to both attack and shape the operations of their opponents. Since the unit's arrival in late November, soldiers with the 4-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash. have suffered 2 soldiers killed and 17 wounded in combat incidents, many very seriously, with multiple amputations. All but two of the casualties have been the result of pressure-plate IEDs, with the majority of those targeting foot patrols.
Private First Class Joe Elder briefs the platoon on their movement prior to a patrol on April 9. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.
The minefields of southern Afghanistan
All conflicts and areas of operation have characteristic threats. In Iraq, the roadside bomb and the suicide car bomb rose to prominence. The early years of the war in Afghanistan were characterized by many more stand-up gunfights and other direct fire attacks, before the planted bomb know-how migrated from other theaters of the Long War to make IEDs more common. All of these techniques, along with rocket fire and suicide vehicle bombs, remain prominent in most portions of the country.
But the IED is the weapon of choice for the insurgency. In 2012, there were "nearly 15,000 IED incidents in Afghanistan, causing about 1,900 U.S. casualties," according to Pentagon reporting. This figure represents an 80% increase in two years. And the fight in southern Afghanistan after the 2009 US surge of forces has been dominated by a very specific insurgent bomb technique: the pressure-plate IED, a.k.a. mine, mainly intended for foot patrols. Vehicles are still attacked with suicide car bombs and larger pressure-plate IEDs, but the vast majority of the hidden bombs target dismounted soldiers. The result has been a large number of dismemberments and deaths as ISAF forces grappled with a steep learning curve while adapting to the tactic.
The post-surge mines that popped up in Helmand and Kandahar provinces were comprised of crude but effective materials: a wood box connected to a detonator and a yellow water jug filled with homemade explosives. US electronic countermeasures can defeat "remote-control IEDs" set off with a cell phone or other broadcast signal. And opting to place a similar remote control bomb with a physical "command wire" is a riskier proposition for insurgents; the wires are subject to being spotted, and someone has to stick around on the other end of the electric fuse to man the explosives.
As a result, the Taliban rely heavily on the pressure-plate trigger mechanism buried under the soil. When a soldier, Marine, or random civilian steps on one of the traps, a rectangular wood box bows, two metal contacts complete an electrical circuit, and the explosives detonate. Sometimes insurgents simply sprinkle the bombs along well-traveled pathways in hopes of scoring a casualty. Other times, the mines are accompanied by an ambush with small arms fire. The aim, as occurred during the fight in Sperwan on Dec. 10, is to drive forces into natural movements toward cover or maneuver, at which point US and Afghan troops can stumble into minefields.
US forces quickly made common sense adaptations to these attacks: they began patrolling in "Ranger file" - a single line in which each man attempts to replicate the footsteps of the soldier to his front; they augmented the patrols with bomb-sniffing dogs; and they began employing one or more handheld detectors in patrol formations. The most recent evolutions in counter-mine tactics that have risen to prominence also include powerful aerial reconnaissance assets and "leg sav[ing]" battlefield robots. Despite these and other counter-IED advancements, and the more than $20 billion spent to develop them, the bombs remain a persistent threat and an economical tactic for the Taliban.
An Afghan Uniform Police (AUP) officer learns to use a bomb detector during a US tutorial at a police checkpoint in Panjwai. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.
One of the quickest adaptations to the threat of buried bombs was the adoption of metal detectors wielded by soldiers staged redundantly in any patrol formation. Personnel trained in the use of these machines sweep them carefully back and forth before themselves, and the devices will often, but not always, acquire a "hit" on pieces of metal used in the bombs, typically the batteries or metal contacts.
The technology has undoubtedly saved many lives and limbs. But as has inevitably been the case over more than a decade of conflict, insurgents have attempted to adapt to the technique; they have started using components that evade the metal detection. The latest class of US technology has in turn one-upped this adaptation with the "VMR-2 Minehound" and "VMC-1 Gizmo" detectors, devices that concurrently sweep for metal parts and minerals or use a "ground penetrating radar" to scan for suspicious objects underneath the surface.
When a hit occurs, if a soldier is sure that the area is seeded with a bomb, the trap is typically disarmed or an explosive ordnance disposal troop detonates it in place. (In Helmand province, hurriedly trained young lance corporals used to riskily dig up and cut the wires to the bombs themselves; many Afghan troops still do this.) Sometimes a hit by the detector is equivocal, and US forces simply avoid stepping on the area. This guidance - copying the steps of compatriots and skirting potential trouble spots - is dubbed "staying on the path of life" by soldiers in Kandahar.
These techniques are effective but not foolproof. It is always possible for the minehounds to miss bombs, or for someone to step slightly out of line, pressing on an unlucky spot untouched by the machines and the footfalls of several men in front of him. The detonation of a bomb typically results in death or catastrophic dismemberment for the stepper, and shrapnel and concussion injuries for those closest to him.
A number of Afghan soldiers and policemen are being trained in the use of the detector technologies, but trainers in Panjwai were unclear on how many of the machines will be left with the indigenous troops as US troops withdraw. And teaching the local forces isn't always easy. During a recent US seminar conducted at an Afghan Uniform Police (AUP) checkpoint in Panjwai, one of the cops seemed to enthusiastically absorb the lesson, while two other students were far "too stoned" on hashish cigarettes to become competent. Even without detectors, the Afghan troops, especially the Afghan Local Police native to the area, maintain an advantage the Americans don't have: intimate knowledge of the local terrain.
"The ALP can spot IEDs just like that," according to one US soldier, snapping his fingers for effect.
Private First Class Dustin Byrd and "Sassy" check a car for explosives in the village of Korozai. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.
The US military has also adapted to the evolving IED threat by increasing the use of highly trained bomb-sniffing dogs. Breeds typically used in the detection work include the Labrador retriever, German and Dutch Shepherds, and the Belgian Malinois. Handlers walk the dogs in the front portion of a patrol and the animals sniff the ground above a potential bomb, responding "passively" (stopping and looking at an area) if they smell explosives. On the April 7 patrol, "Sassy" the yellow Lab was also directed to sniff two cars suspected as vehicle-borne-IEDs; the dog's nose made the task infinitely quicker and less intrusive than a physical search by humans.
The canine soldiers, like their human counterparts, vary in skill, personality, and responses to combat situations. Sassy is rated well by her trainer, but the dog, like many bomb-sniffing canines in Afghanistan, can develop problems on long patrols.
"She's pretty good ... when she conducts searches in a training exercise she does it perfectly," explained Private First Class Dustin Byrd, Sassy's handler. "But sometimes when she's on a long patrol and she gets hot and tired, she loses [focus]."
The dogs also have varied responses to stress. Some animals get spooked by gunfire and explosions, eventually developing post-traumatic stress disorder, while others handle combat with aplomb. "Oogie," a black European Labrador Retriever assigned to another unit in Panjwai, is rated as unusually professional and unflappable by the soldiers who work with him. Gunfights and detonations "don't bother him" explained Oogie's handler, Sergeant Jacob Cozort, as they waited outside a tribal shura conducted at an American base near the village of Mushan in late March. Minutes later, a distant explosion outside the base's walls illustrated Cozort's point: Oogie briefly cocked his head toward the rumble, seemed to consider it for a millisecond, and nonchalantly returned to affectionately pressing his body up against any and all nearby humans.
A drawback to the dog's warrior persona occurred earlier in the deployment, however, when Oogie scored his first confirmed kill during a patrol -- on a local sheep. The American soldiers used Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds to reimburse a local farmer for the slain animal, to the tune of $148.
On an April 9 patrol by Third Platoon, Comanche Company, 4-9 Infantry in Zangabad, Sassy the Golden Lab made a similar attempt, bucking at the end of her leash when a herd of goats approached the patrol. Byrd restrained the dog, but not before the animals were spooked into an adjacent poppy field. Three young goat herders took the situation in amused stride, despite the fact that they were forced to scamper into the tall stalks after their charges.
Sassy bucks at a herd of goats while Private First Class Dustin Byrd restrains her. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.
Troops have employed possibly the ultimate evolution of counter-mine efforts in the US war in Afghanistan with the recent adoption of the large, remote-controlled robots that are capable of cutting a path through difficult terrain. One soldier on the April 9 patrol in Zangabad was astonished when he recently encountered the vehicle in Afghanistan, recalling how he had first come across it years ago in a video game.
"In 2008, I was playing Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, and I remember dragging that thing around the map thinking, 'Yeah right, the Army will never have anything like this,'" said First Lieutenant Andrew Alcocer, of Headquarters Company, 1-36 Infantry, before he accompanied the 4-9 Infantry patrol as a detachment. "And then I go on my first patrol with these guys, and they're like, 'Hey, bring up the Baby.' I said, 'What's the Baby?' And around the corner, here it is."
The DOK-KING MV-4 Mine Clearance System has been a game changer in the US-Taliban tactics race over anti-personnel mines. The heavy flails dangling from the front scoop or the weight of the treads set off the trigger pressure on most bombs designed to target people, and the heavy tread marks left behind offer soldiers a clear path to follow on patrol. In addition, the remote control behemoth serves as quick, mobile cover in the event of a firefight; it can turn 360 degrees on a pivot to switch directions; and it can carry much of the weapons, food, extra ammunition, and other heavy equipment that soldiers take with them on a foot patrol.
"The Baby" occasionally gets stuck, typically if an operator drives it off a decline or into a muddy ditch with deep water, but its intermediate size and powerful treads allow it to fit through most of the narrow passageways of Afghan compounds, and the machine comes equipped with robotic arms that can assist in recovery from a ditch. All the robot requires is a relatively flat surface.
"We can't always have, especially with some of the routes we go on, the benefit of RCP (route-clearance packages): big, huge, professional engineer [equipment] out here," said Alcocer. "So this thing, for just a platoon-sized element, the way you can just cut up and dig through trails for us real fast, it's invaluable. Plus, you can throw on the ammo, the water for a quick resupply. It's great."
"It's a leg saver," chimed in another soldier.
A US Army Persistent Ground Surveillance System (PGSS) blimp. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.
Just prior to 3rd Platoon's departure for the reconnaissance patrol on April 9, one of the soldiers swore under his breath. When asked what had bothered him, he pointed up and replied, "Look: the blimp is coming down."
Sure enough, one of the large white Persistent Ground Surveillance System (PGSS) blimps that serve as the Americans' most trusted reconnaissance resource was slowly lowering toward the ground. Though the sky was clear, the weather report anticipated difficult storms later in the day, and the blimp, and its all-seeing cameras, was being pulled down as a precaution.
The insurgents are keenly aware of the blimps' powers of observation, and sometimes take shots at them in a bid to remove the US advantage, but with rare success. More often, insurgents attack US and Afghan forces when a blimp is out of commission due to weather or maintenance. Making matters worse on April 9, the two to five attack helicopters that typically circle over Zangabad (usually two Kiowas and one Apache) were also mysteriously absent, possibly due to "red air" (poor flying conditions). The distant roar of an unseen fighter jet maintained some degree of comfort.
In the end, the patrol passed uneventfully. But the soldier's reaction to the loss of air assets and his anticipation of a Taliban attack are indicative of the advantage this advanced technology now affords US troops in the latter stages of the war. In addition to limiting gunfights or complex sneak attacks on US bases, the reconnaissance has proved to be a big advantage in the counter-IED battle.
"To make [the pressure-plate IEDs] work, you need batteries," explained Colonel Michael Getchell, the commander of 4-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and the top US officer in Panjwai. "We [do] see [the batteries] with our metal detectors, but we actually see them with our balloons, because [the insurgents] don't have enough batteries. You can't turn the IED on and leave it on, or your batteries are going to die. So you gotta go back and forth to it. Some will turn them in the late afternoon, so [US forces] don't do night operations, and then turn them off in the morning, so the local population can go to market, go to school. Others will turn them on in the morning and turn them off at night."
US airborne reconnaissance, especially the blimps, enables US personnel to spot insurgents planting or tending the power supply on one of the mines. The ability to identify these locations has given US forces a leg up in the IED tactics race in Panjwai, according to Getchell, at least for now. But as US forces draw back and Afghan soldiers and cops take the lead, it remains unclear whether these significant benefits afforded by US aerial reconnaissance will persist after withdrawal in 2014. In the meantime, US troops continue to provide the overwatch to their Afghan counterparts, in addition to blocking positions, quick reaction help, and helicopter medevac services.
"I'm not pushing with my guys in [western Panjwai]. The Afghan forces are pushing in there," said Getchell. "This is the first fighting season that the ASF (Afghan Security Forces) are going to be not just in the lead but responsible for their success. We are going to be overwatch, let them succeed, let them fail a little bit, let them stumble, but don't let them fall. Because if you let them fall, that can give the enemy some momentum that's hard to reverse."