Afghan forces target al Qaeda commanders in Helmand and Nangarhar

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Screenshot from Dec. 2016 Taliban video that emphasized the ties between al Qaeda and the Taliban. Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and Taliban founder Mulla Omar (center, top) are shown side by side in an image that promotes the martyrs of jihad.
Afghan security forces killed seven al Qaeda members in Helmand, including one senior leader, and captured five more in Nangarhar during recent operations. Al Qaeda continues to operate in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban, despite the Pentagon’s claim that the two terror groups do not maintain a strategic relationship.

Afghan Special Forces said that its troops killed Abdul Rahim Al-Mesri and six fighters during a raid in Garmsir district in Helmand province on Aug. 7. Additionally, two fighters from from Pakistan were captured. Al-Mesri and his followers were running a bomb making factory in Garmsir when Afghan Special Forces launched their attack.

Al-Mesri (or al Masri) was described as a “senior Al-Qaeda network leader,” Khaama Press reported. His nom de guerre, al Masri, indicates he is Egyptian, however his nationality has not been confirmed.

Nangarhar’s provincial government announced on Aug. 4 that an al Qaeda member known as Rahmatullah and “his four comrades” were captured in Jalalabad, according to Khaama Press. The five al Qaeda operatives were detained during a raid by the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service.

The removal of 12 al Qaeda operatives from the battlefield in the span of less than one week is a clear indication that the US military and intelligence services continues to underestimate al Qaeda’s ties to the Taliban and its strength in Afghanistan.

In the Pentagon’s most recent biannual report, Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, it claimed that al Qaeda’s “core members are focused on their own survival” and “there is no evidence of strategic ties” between al Qaeda and the Taliban. However that assessment, like previous assessments of al Qaeda’s strength and its ties to the Taliban, is demonstrably false.

The raids in Helmand and Nangarhar indicate that al Qaeda’s leaders are not focused on its survival. Al Mesri was focused on manufacturing IEDs to support the Taliban’s insurgency in Helmand. Rahmatullah and his cohort weren’t hiding in remote areas of Nangarhar where they could hide from Coalition and Afghan forces; they were operating in Police District 1 in Jalalabad, the provincial capital.

There is no evidence that the Taliban has distanced itself from al Qaeda. The Taliban refuses to denounce al Qaeda and expel its leaders and fighters from its ranks. The Taliban has remained firm on this issue, and the US no longer insists the Taliban denounce al Qaeda as a precondition to peace talks. The Taliban’s top leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of its two deputy emirs, is openly allied with al Qaeda. And as recently as Dec. 2016, the Taliban prominently featured Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders in its propaganda.

For more information on the Taliban-al Qaeda ties and its strength in Afghanistan, see LWJ report, Analysis: Pentagon continues to underestimate al Qaeda, downplay ties to Taliban.

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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