How al-Qaeda is hijacking the Kunduz insurgency

by Florian Flade

He had to leave Pakistan and made his way into the northern Afghan province of Takhar – that´s what the ISAF intelligence sources said. The insurgent commander with strong ties to al-Qaeda and the Uzbek terror group „Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan“, was said to have arrived in Takhar in spring.
NATO began hunting for him.

On August 31th ISAF soldiers conducted a raid in Kunduz City in search for the Taliban commander who is believed to be the deputy „Shadow-Governor“ of Takhar, and a major link between foreign fighters and local Afghan insurgents. The ISAF troops did not engage him that day but arrested two of his associates.

Just two days later, on September 2th, ISAF finally got the intel report saying that the wanted al-Qaeda helper was traveling through Takhar province. Indeed ISAF forces spotted a six-car convoy on a remote route in Rustaq district of Takhar.

An airstrike was called in that hit just one car, a Sedan, in the insurgent convoy. The Sedan SUV was hit and destroyed, the other cars weren´t damage.
Although ISAF could not immediately confirm the death of the Taliban/al-Qaeda commander, they received news of 12 insurgents who were either killed or injured in the airstrike on the convoy in Takhar.

This event is just the latest NATO operation in an ongoing hunt for al-Qaeda´s mercenaries in northern Afghanistan. Local Taliban commanders who have built ties with Jihadi groups like IMU and al-Qaeda have increasingly become the main target for ISAF Anti-Terror missions in the areas of Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan.

Four days prior to the Takhar airstrike, a NATO airstrike in Kunduz violent Char Darah district, targeted three insurgents on a motorbike. At least one militant was killed, another was wounded. Prime target was a known IMU-commander who ordered attacks against the International Forces.

On August 16th ISAF released a statement saying

„The International Security Assistance Force confirmed the death of Abu Baqir, a dual-hatted Taliban sub-commander and al-Qaida group leader, after a coalition force air weapons team engaged his truck in Kunduz province Sunday…The air weapons team killed two insurgents including Baqir, who was reportedly housing four potential suicide bombers for upcoming attacks on the city of Kunduz.“

Abu Baqir, a previously unknown shadowy figure in the insurgency of Kunduz, was allegedly responsible for moving suicide bombers into the provinces of northern Afghanistan and orchestrating upcoming attacks on ISAF forces and their Afghan allies.

There is obviously a change going on in the Taliban insurgency of North Afghanistan. Key elements of the militant movement seem to come from foreign countries and have infiltrated the local forces.
Kunduz and Baghlan are known to be the main operating basis for Hezb i-Islami, a Mujaheddin movement led by famous Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who fought the Soviets in the 1980s and later served in the Afghan government for a short time before moving to Pakistan. Hezb i-Islami is recruiting new fighters not only in Afghanistan but also in neighboring Pakistan. It is also believed to be funded by donations coming from the Arab Gulf states.

Another and more dangerous major player in the Kunduz insurgency is the „Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan“ (IMU), a jihadi group founded in the early 1990s in Uzbekistan´s Fergana Valley to overthrow the Central Asian Post-Soviet regimes and establish an Islamic state on the territory of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan and Kazakhstan.

During the time of the Taliban´s rule in Afghanistan, IMU was running camps alongside al-Qaeda, in which Central Asian fighters were trained to fight in the guerilla wars of the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Today IMU has moved their basis to the Taliban-controlled tribal areas alongside the Pakistan-Afghan border. In Waziristan they are acting as mercenaries to the Taliban war lords, fighting for them and defending their area against Pakistani army operations. In return the Waziristan Taliban commanders allow the Uzbeks, Chechens, Uighurs and Turks of the IMU to stay in their areas and use buildings and training camps.

News reports and military suggest the fact that IMU shifted its main interest from fighting Pakistani forces in South and North Waziristan to participate in the Anti-NATO insurgency in northern Afghanistan.
Evidence of IMU´s presence in Kunduz and other provinces can be found in several reports from the region, sometimes even in form of propaganda video tapes.

Earlier this year IMU´s media outlet released footage of their fighters activities in and around Kunduz including the so-called „Good Friday-Attack“ (April 2th) on a German military patrol in Char Darah district of Kunduz. Three German soldiers were killed when insurgents detonated an IED.
The IMU video is a clear proof of the presence of foreign fighters in Kunduz. Militants from several Asian and Arabic countries are shown roaming the roads and villages of the province neighboring Tajikistan.

Although IMU is not officially part of al-Qaeda, ISAF and security experts as well as the local Afghan forces treat the Uzbek Jihadis as „al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents“ as they are indeed foreign elements.
Their highest ranking leaders are settled in the Pakistani tribal areas and try to control the northern insurgency in Afghanistan by sending in more fighters, weapons and money.

In a recent interview with the Central Asian Times, the Governor of Kunduz, Engineer Muhammad Omar states al-Qaeda forces are blocking Taliban fighters in his province to start peace talks with the Afghan Government in Kabul.
Two Taliban commanders, Mullah Laal Muhammad and Mullah Alaoddin were disarmed by al-Qaeda, Governor Omar said.

„Al-Qaeda has disarmed two prominent commanders of the Haqqani network (Afghan Taliban operating out of Pakistan) in the past two weeks“, the Governor tells the newspaper, „Nine other Taliban commanders have buried their weapons and fled to Pakistan in fear of being disarmed.

Similar statements are made by the Kunduz representative to the Afghan Parliament, Mr.Merastyal: „The groups that are supporting Taliban from outside don´t want peace talks in Afghanistan as they consider stability detrimental to their interests. They want terrorism in the region, so anyone who looks interested in peace talks is being disarmed or captured.“

Kunduz Governor Omar thinks native Taliban movement is ready to agree to negotiations with NATO about withdrawal.
„The Afghan Taliban have accepted the reality now and want to participate in peace talks, but the Pakistani, Uzbek and Chechen militants don´t want the reconciliation process to start“, the politician said.

Indications are strong foreign militant networks have started an attempt to hijack the Taliban insurgency in Kunduz, Baghlan and Takhar. Through violence and aggressive tactics they force local insurgents with a limited agenda and very limited goals – most of them just want NATO leave Afghanistan – into the cause of borderless Jihad and caliphate-endeavor.
Extremists of IMU and sometimes even al-Qaeda live, plan and fight alongside Afghan insurgents and influence their behavior as well as on an ideological level.

At first the Taliban welcome the foreign fighters amidst their ranks as explosive-experts and IED-Bomb makers. Often Arab and Central Asian jihadis trained in al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan stay in the background and only operate as bomb makers.
Because of the religious knowledge and their ability to recite the Quran in proper Arabic the Afghans regard the foreign Mujaheddin as intellectuals and „better Muslims“. They follow the advice and orders al-Qaeda fighters give them about how to use Sharia properly and correct.

Afghan journalist Najibullah Qureishi experienced how foreign militants influence their Afghan comrades in a way that nearly cost him his life. In the fall of 2009 Qureishi spent 10 days amongst a group of Taliban fighters from the „Hezb i-Islami“ in northern Afghanistan. He lived and ate with them, saw them building bombs and he was among them when they set up ambushes for NATO troops.
From the beginning of his time in the Taliban unit he noticed the presence of foreign fighters in the group.

The group´s leader, Commander Kalaqub tells the journalist: „We have around 3,000 to 4,000 Hezb-i-Islami men in the north. People come to us from all over Afghanistan. … They come from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan. We get special mujahids from abroad, but we’re not allowed to talk about them.“

Soon Qureishi discovered that foreign jihadis always had the last saying on strategic decisions made by the group´s commanders: „It was my first meeting with (Taliban commander) Mirwais and an Arab was present, because anything Mirwais does, the Arab is next to him all the time.“

„And there was Uzbek, a guy who is making bombs or roadside mines with the Afghan colleague, or trainer“, Najibullah Qureishi tells about his experience, „What I heard about them, the foreigners, Mujahid or Talibs, they all belong to al-Qaeda and they get orders from them. Even their council – most of them were al-Qaeda and they were from Pakistan, they were from Arab countries and they were Uzbeks.“

Qureishi thinks the bomb-technology found in Afghanistan´s insurgency today was brought in by the al-Qaeda foreigners: „I asked that Uzbek, „Where did you learn to make these kind of things?“ He said, off camera, „I was trained in Pakistan by some Arabs.“ When they say Arabs, it means al-Qaeda.“

At the end of his time with the Taliban fighters, the journalist had won the trust of the local commander Mirwais. But not even the group´s leader was able to save him from a dangerous situation that occurred when two men arrived and suspected Najibullah Qureishi to be a spy.

„What I heard is they were al-Qaeda and they were in Pakistan and they came back from there. One was Arab and one was Pakistani. And on that day, I saw two, three times, they took Mirwais away and they were talking privately about me“, Qureishi said, „The next day Mirwais came to me. He took my hand, he took me aside. He said: „Brother, I invited you here as a guest. I know your plan is to be here for 14 days, but I’m really sorry.“ I said, „What’s the problem?“ He said: „That two guys are part of the council and they are guests, too. One is Arab, one is Pakistani, and they keep telling me that you are a spy and we have to behead you.“

Najbullah Qureishi left the following day without saying goodbye. The more radical and mostly foreign elements of the Afghan insurgency were willing to kill him sooner than later.

Now it seems they are turning against their Afghan hosts if they decide to lay done weapons against Kabul or ISAF.

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