U.S. and Afghan forces target Al Qaeda in the south

The U.S. military and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) have launched two raids against Al Qaeda’s network in Helmand and Nimroz province over the past several days, killing at least eight operatives and capturing three more. The Taliban continues to maintain that Al Qaeda does not have a presence in Afghanistan, despite multiple raids against the terror group.

The U.S. military launched an airstrike on Dec. 3 that targeted a Taliban meeting in Nad Ali district in Helmand province. At least 40 jihadists are reported to have been killed or wounded during the strike, including Abdullah Baloch, the Taliban’s purported shadow governor of Farah province. Eight members of Al Qaeda are also said to have been killed in the Nad Ali airstrike, however their names were not disclosed. U.S. intelligence officials have told FDD’s Long War Journal that Baloch is what is known as a “dual hatted” commander: he leads members of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security captured three Al Qaeda leaders on Dec. 6 during a raid in the southwestern province of Nimroz. The NDS identified the Al Qaeda leaders as Mustafa, the leader of Al Qaeda’s “Amar Bil Marof Affairs,” or its prevention of virtue and vice committee, Hafiz Abdul Aziz, and Hayatullah. All three are Afghan citizens. They have been involved with attacks on the Kamal Khan Dam as well as Zaranj City, the capital of Nimroz province.

“Mustafa and Hafiz Mohammad recently lived in Iran,” Pajhwok Afghan News reported based on the NDS press release. “They carried out terrorist attacks under leadership of Hafiz Ghulamullah, deputy intelligence head of Al-Qaeda in Nimroz.”

Al Qaeda leaders and operatives are known to shelter in Iran, and often cross the border to operate inside Afghanistan. Israel recently killed Abu Mohammad al Masri (Adbullah Ahmed Abdullah), Al Qaeda’s second in command who was wanted by the U.S. government, in an ambush in Tehran, Iran.

The U.S. military and Afghan security forces have killed three senior Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan over the past 15 months. The U.S. military killed Asim Umar, the head of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, in the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in Helmand province on Sept. 23, 2019. Several Al Qaeda leaders were killed alongside Umar, including Ayman al Zawahiri’s courier. The U.S. military killed Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, a veteran Al Qaeda leader who served as the group’s media chief, in a raid in Ghazni in Oct. 2020. The NDS killed Mohammad Hanif, another veteran jihadist who once served as the deputy emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, during a raid in Farah province.

Despite the repeated targeting, killing, and capturing of Al Qaeda leaders and operatives, the Taliban maintains that the terror group does not operate in Afghanistan. The Taliban maintains that Al Qaeda left Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The Taliban maintains this lie because the Feb. 29, 2020 agreement with the United States stipulates that Al Qaeda cannot plot attacks against the West. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to withdrawal all forces by April 2021. The U.S. government has not held the Taliban to account for its support of Al Qaeda.