US military kills AQIS leaders, fighters in southern Afghanistan

Al Qaeda announced the deaths of a shura member for its branch in the Indian subcontinent, its commander in Bangladesh, and other fighters during US military operations in Afghanistan over the past year. The eight leaders and fighters are but a small percentage of al Qaeda members killed by US forces in Afghanistan in that time.

Asim Umar, the emir of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), announced the deaths of the jihadists in a video released yesterday. The video, entitled “Behold! The Help of Allah is Near!” was produced sometime in February or March.

Umar said that US forces killed Usama Ibrahim, a Pakistani jihadist from as Islamabad also known as Amjad Bhai, “in a ground raid based on information provided by Pakistani military” during Eid ul Adha, or mid-September 2016. The raid took place in Zabul province, a known hotbed of al Qaeda activity.

Ibrahim was a member of AQIS’ top leadership body, the “head of Al Sahab Media,” al Qaeda’s official media production arm, and “an unsung knight of the media world,” according to Umar. “He was a cherished heart of Al Sahab Urdu and then Al Sahab Subcontinent.”

Umar also announced the death of Tariq Bhai, AQIS’ “head of Bangladeshi Affairs,” and five other fighters, but did not indicate when they were killed. They “passed away irrigating the desert of Kandahar in hopes that the spring of Islamic system [of governance] shall come back to the land of Bangladesh.”

“It is worth considering that they all embraced martyrdom in Afghanistan, in US raids,” Umar noted, and concluded that this was evidence that the US sought to “stop the implementation of Shari’ah” in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was formed in Sept. 2014 and includes elements of some of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India’s most prominent jihadist groups. Since its formation, AQIS claimed credit for a September attack on a Pakistani naval vessel. During the operation, jihadists attempted to hijack the ship and fire missiles at US warships in the Indian Ocean. According to both the terrorist group and Pakistan’s defense minister, Pakistani naval officers were complicit in the attack

Al Qaeda fighters routinely killed in Afghanistan

While the Obama administration routinely downplayed al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2016, the jihadist group operated a network far greater than US military and intelligence estimates, which consistently claimed the jihadist group had only 50 to 100 fighters in country.

This view of al Qaeda in Afghanistan changed after US forces raided two al Qaeda training camps in Shorabak district in Kandahar. More than 150 al Qaeda fighters were killed in that raid alone. After the Shorabak raids, the US military revised its estimate of al Qaeda strength in Afghanistan to upwards to 300 operatives.

Yet, in mid-December 2016, General John Nicholson admitted that the US military killed or captured 50 al Qaeda leaders and an additional 200 operatives during calendar year 2016 in Afghanistan. Among those killed in 2016 were Faruq al Qahtani, al Qaeda’s leader for eastern Afghanistan, and his deputy, Bilal al Utabyi, as well as a senior explosives expert known as Wahid al Junabi.

The US military continues to pick off members of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan, which has been strengthened by the resurgence of the Taliban. So far this year, two senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured in Afghanistan. The US killed Qari Yasin, a senior al Qaeda military commander and trainer, in a drone strike on March 19. And Afghan intelligence captured Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a top Pakistani al Qaeda leader, during a raid in the southern province of Ghazni on Jan. 9.

Additionally, reports in the Afghan press indicate that several al Qaeda operatives have been killed over the past month. For instance, on April 9, Khaama Press reported that three al Qaeda fighters were killed, while The Nation noted that al Qaeda members were among 10 jihadists killed in Zabul.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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