Change Of Command

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Stars And Stripes

August 26, 2014

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Army Gen. John F. Campbell became the final commander of the NATO-led military coalition in Afghanistan during a ceremony Tuesday.

The former infantry officer and Special Forces commander takes over from Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who will become Commandant of the Marine Corps. The ceremony, at a military base in Kabul, was attended by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Campbell assumes control of the International Security Assistance Force as it finishes withdrawing from bases across the country in preparation for the end of its combat mission later this year. Close to 44,000 troops from 48 countries serve in the coalition, nearly 30,000 of them American. More than 100,000 troops were stationed in the country at the height of the coalition’s surge in 2010.

The challenges facing the general include planning for a post-2014 NATO and U.S. training and advisory role in the country. That task is complicated by the lack of formal agreements with the Afghan government and political uncertainty due a presidential election that is still undecided.

An entrenched insurgency, meanwhile, threatens stability in some parts of the country, testing the abilities of Afghan security forces, who were developed, trained and equipped by the coalition at great cost. Those forces lack many of the tools that gave ISAF the upper hand against insurgents, such as air support, medical evacuation and surveillance capabilities.

Managing dwindling troop numbers to continue to provide that assistance in the most critical areas of the country will be another test. Plans call for U.S. troop numbers to fall to 9,800 by year’s end.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel acknowledged those challenges while expressing confidence in Campbell.

”John’s leadership comes at a defining moment, as Afghanistan undertakes a historic political transition, and the United States and our coalition partners transition from combat to training and support for Afghan forces,” Hagel said in a statement.

The continuing election crisis could add further complications, with some parties threatening civil unrest. On the same day Campbell assumed command, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened to withdraw from the election review process unless officials meet several technical demands that could change the process.

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http://www.stripes.com/news/campbell-becomes-final-isaf-commander-1.300015

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Afghan, US Forces Target Taliban Leader

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Written by Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal

January 17, 2014

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Coalition and Afghan special operations forces targeted a Haqqani Network-linked Taliban leader during a recent raid in the central Afghan province of Parwan. The Taliban commander, who serves as Parwan’s deputy shadow governor, “transports weapons, fighters and suicide bombers” into the province and Kabul. Afghanistan’s president accused the US of killing eight civilians during the raid.

Ten Taliban fighters, a US Special Forces soldier, and two civilians were killed after Afghan commandos and Coalition advisers launched a raid on Jan. 15 “to disrupt insurgent activities in the [Ghorband] district, including attacks on Bagram Airfield,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

ISAF said that the combined special operations force “came under heavy fire from insurgents, resulting in the death of one ISAF service member.” The two civilians were killed after the Afghan and Coalition force launched airstrikes on nearby buildings that were occupied by Taliban fighters.

President Karzai claimed that a woman and seven children were killed during the fighting, and again called for an end to the controversial ‘night raids’ by Coalition forces.

“The Afghan government has been asking for a complete end to operations in Afghan villages for years, but American forces acting against all mutual agreements … have once again bombarded a residential area and killed civilians,” a statement from Karzai’s office said.  The statement neglected to note that Afghan commandos led the operation.

ISAF indicated that areas of Parwan province remain under the Taliban’s control or influence.

“The operation was conducted in a high threat area with Taliban activity, some linked to the Haqqani Network,” ISAF said. “The insurgents in this area enjoy freedom of movement allowing them to harass and threaten the local population as well as stage and facilitate attacks.”

The primary target of the operation was Qari Nazar Gul, the deputy shadow governor, who also is “a member of the senior Taliban Commission.”

“Gul has ties to the Haqqani Network and transports weapons, fighters and suicide bombers to Parwan and Kabul,” ISAF said. He also “has conducted attacks against ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] and Coalition forces including a complex attack at Bagram Airfield.” ISAF may be referring to the May 19, 2010 suicide assault on Bagram Airbase that was executed by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al Qaeda, and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. The assault was led by Bekay Harrach, a dual-hatted IMU and al Qaeda leader from Germany.  Harrach is thought to have been killed during the attack.

Background on the Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network is a powerful Taliban subgroup that operates primarily in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika, but also has an extensive presence in Kabul, Parwan, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul, Kandahar, Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar. In addition, the network has expanded its operations into the distant Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Faryab, and Kunar, according to ISAF press releases that document raids against the network. In central Afghanistan, the Haqqani Network coordinates suicide operations and complex assaults with groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, in what ISAF used to call the Kabul Attack Network.

The Haqqani Network has close links with al Qaeda, and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) has allowed the network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold of North Waziristan. The terror group has also extended its presence into the Pakistani tribal agency of Kurram.

In North Waziristan, the Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. In addition, the Haqqanis have established multiple training camps and safe houses that are used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives and by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani Network has been implicated in some of the biggest terror attacks in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, including the January 2008 suicide assault on the Serena hotel, the February 2009 assault on Afghan ministries, and the July 2008 and October 2009 suicide attacks against the Indian embassy.

The terror group collaborated with elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service in at least one of these attacks. American intelligence agencies have confronted the Pakistani government with evidence, including communications intercepts, which proved the ISID’s direct involvement in the 2008 Indian Embassy bombing.

In the summer and fall of 2011, the US and the Afghan government linked the Haqqani Network and Pakistan’s intelligence service to the June 28, 2011 assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and the Sept. 13, 2011 attack on the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters. Shortly after the September attack, Admiral Michael Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the Haggani Network of being one of several “[e]xtremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan.”

The US military has been hunting top Haqqani Network commanders in special operations raids in the Afghan east, while the CIA has targeted the network with a series of unmanned Predator airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan. In November, the CIA killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top deputy to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group’s operational commander, in a strike in the district of Hangu.

Despite the targeting of top Haqqani Network leaders, the group continues to expand in Afghanistan.

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/01/afghan_us_forces_tar_1.php

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Cause of Helicopter Crash Determined

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Written by Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal

January 11, 2014

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The Taliban were responsible for downing a US Army Blackhawk helicopter in the southern Afghan province of Zabul on Dec. 17, 2013, the International Security Assistance Force has confirmed. The helicopter may have been brought down by an anti-helicopter mine such as one tested by the Islamic Jihad Union, an al Qaeda-linked group known to operate in the province.

When the helicopter crashed on Dec. 17, ISAF said that “initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash.” The Taliban immediately claimed credit for the attack on their website, Voice of Jihad, however, stating that “Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate have shot down the helicopter of foreign troops.”

Two days ago, ISAF told CNN that “the families of the soldiers killed in the December 17 helicopter crash have been notified that ‘enemy action caused the crash and loss of life,” Stars and Stripes reported.  Five US soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and another from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment were killed in the Taliban attack.

The exact cause of the downing of the helicopter has not been disclosed. Three US military officials told CNN that “the Taliban has been deemed responsible — either by shooting the helicopter or if the low-flying aircraft set off a bomb hidden on the ground.”

In the past, the Taliban have successfully shot down US helicopters with rocket-propelled grenades. The most significant shootdown took place in August 2011 in the Tangi Valley in Wardak province. Taliban RPGs struck a US Army Chinook that was involved in a raid to capture a senior Taliban commander; the attack resulted in the deaths of 38 US and Afghan troops, including 17 Navy SEALS from SEAL Team 6.

While Taliban-fired RPGs have been credited with downing ISAF helicopters, jihadists in Afghanistan have also advertised the testing of what they described as an “anti-helicopter fragmentation mine” designed to take out US Army Apache attack helicopters. In July 2013, the IJU, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, displayed one such weapon in a video about its operations in Paktika province.  The IMU and al Qaeda are known to operate in Zabul; members often serve as embedded military trainers to Taliban forces.

In one scene of the IJU video, the jihadist fighters are shown carrying what the SITE Intelligence Group described as “the prototype for an anti-helicopter fragmentation mine.”

“The mine can hit a target at a distance of 300 meters,” the IJU video states. The cameraman describes the anti-helicopter fragmentation mine as an “unpleasant surprise” for the US helicopter crews. The IJU narrator indicates, however, that the mine was not fired.

If the Dec. 17, 2013 helicopter crash is determined to have been caused by an anti-helicopter fragmentation mine, it would be the first successful attack of its kind reported in Afghanistan. It would also indicate that ISAF forces, which are relying more on helicopters for support as Western forces continue to draw down, face a new threat from the Taliban and allied groups in Afghanistan.

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/01/taliban_shot_down_us.php

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The Killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani

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Written by Bill Roggio

November 12, 2013

The Long War Journal

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The Afghan Taliban condemned the killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani, a top official in the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network who was gunned down yesterday in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The statement announcing the “martyrdom” of Nasiruddin was released November 12th on the Afghan Taliban’s official website, Voice of Jihad. It was signed by “The Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the official name of the Afghan Taliban.

Nasiruddin served as a key financier and facilitator for the group. He also served as an “emissary” to al Qaeda, and often traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2004-2009 to carry out fundraising for the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.

“It is with great regret that we have learned about the martyrdom of Nasiruddin Haqqani (may Allah accept him), the elder son of the famous Jihadi and scholarly personality and member of Leadership Council of Islamic the respected Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani,” the Afghan Taliban said.

While the Taliban did not describe how Nariruddin was killed, they said he died “in a cowardly terrorist attack of the enemy ….” Nasiruddin was gunned down outside a bakery run by Afghans in the Bhara Kahu area of Islamabad. The unidentified shooters were riding motorcycles when they attacked him.

No group has claimed credit for killing Nasiruddin. The Afghan Taliban’s statement did not define the “enemy.” The Pakistani Taliban accused the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s military intelligence service, which backs the Haqqani Network, of executing the attack. But given the Haqqani Network’s relationship with the ISID, Nasiruddin is more likely to have been killed in an Afghan or US intelligence operation, by rival jihadist groups (the Haqqani Network is rarely involved in jihadist infighting), or by criminals.

The killing of Nasiruddin in Islamabad puts a dent in the narrative of the Taliban as well as the Pakistani government, that the Haqqani Network is based in eastern Afghanistan and does not operate in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban maintain this position in order to portray their jihad in Afghanistan as a nationalist fight and to protect their Pakistani backers. The Pakistani government and military maintain that the Haqqanis operate only in Afghanistan, in order to rebuff US and Western pressure to act against the group. The Haqqani Network is closely tied to al Qaeda and is one of the most effective jihadist groups operating in Afghanistan.

Haqqani Network is part of the Taliban

The Taliban’s statement is further confirmation that the Haqqani Network is a key part of the Afghan Taliban. In the past, Western officials have attempted to delink the Afghan Taliban from the Haqqani Network, as part of an effort to weaken the Taliban movement and divide the groups in order to negotiate a peace deal. While the Haqqani Network operates with a degree of autonomy in eastern Afghanistan, the group still falls under the command of the Afghan Taliban.

But the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network have publicly denied that the Haqqanis operate outside the aegis of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In a statement released on Voice of Jihad in September 2012, the Afghan Taliban addressed this issue head on.

The Taliban claimed in that statement that there is “no separate entity or network in Afghanistan by the name of Haqqani,” and that their overall leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is a member of the Quetta Shura, the group’s top leadership council.

“The honorable Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani is a member of the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate and is a close, loyal and trusted associate of the esteemed Amir-ul-Mumineen [leader of the faithful, Mullah Omar] and those Mujahideen entrusted under the command of his sons are in fact the heroic Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate who like other Mujahideen strictly obey the esteemed Amir-ul-Mumineen and wage Jihad against the invaders throughout the country,” the Taliban statement said.

The Taliban also claimed that the Haqqani Network was created by the US as part of “its satanic plot” to divide the group.

“By employing its satanic plot, America is trying to create and black list a separate entity in the organized and unified rank of Islamic Emirate …,” the statement continued.

Haqqani Network leaders have also rebuffed claims that the two groups operate independently.  In a 2008 interview with Al Somood, the Taliban’s official magazine, Jalaluddin outlined his role in the Taliban and said he was a member of the Quetta Shura. He also denied that his followers constituted a separate entity from the Taliban.

The Haqqani Network frequently releases its propaganda tapes and statements through Voice of Jihad and its leaders are often interviewed in Al Somood. The Afghan Taliban also issue martyrdom statements for slain top Haqqani Network leaders, such as Nasiruddin or Badruddin Haqqani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2012.

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The Long War Journal

http://www.longwarjournal.org

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Al Qaeda’s Presence

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by Bill Roggio

November 10, 2013

The Long War Journal

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Earlier November, the US military claimed that al Qaeda has a “limited presence” in Afghanistan and is confined to “the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan.” Although Obama administration and military officials have stated for the past four years that al Qaeda has a minimal presence in Afghanistan, the group and its allies continue to sustain operations in the country.

The claim was made in the newly released, Report On Progress Toward Security and Stablity in Afghanistan, a semiannual update prepared by the Department of Defense.

“AQ [Al Qaeda] maintains a limited presence in the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan such as Kunar and Nuristan, and maintains a seasonal presence in other provinces,” the report states.

“During the reporting period [from April 1 to Sept. 30] , sustained counterterrorism (CT) operations exerted pressure on AQ personnel and networks, and eliminated dozens of al Qaeda (AQ) operatives and facilitators, restricting AQ movements to isolated areas within northeastern Afghanistan,” the report continues.

“ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] estimates that the number of AQ fighters in Afghanistan remains very low, but the AQ relationship with local Afghan Taliban formations remains intact.”

While claiming that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is minimal, the report does not mention al Qaeda-allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other organizations that fight in Afghanistan and also are part of the global jihad. A plot by the IMU to conduct attacks in Europe was broken up after an IMU operative was captured in Afghanistan in 2010.

US Officials Downplay Al Qaeda’s Importance In Afghanistan

US military officials continue to downplay al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan, despite ample evidence that the group is active in the country as well as in Pakistan.

In an interview on July 28, General Joseph Dunford Jr., the Coalition commander in Afghanistan, said al Qaeda was merely a “shell” of its former self, with only about 75 members in Afghanistan, who were mostly too busy trying to stay alive to plan attacks against the West, the New York Times reported.

Similarly, Major General Joseph Osterman, the deputy operations commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said in July that al Qaeda is fighting for its survival in Afghanistan and is isolated primarily in Nuristan province.

“They are less than 100, I would say, and they are in fact just trying to survive at this point,” Osterman told Reuters. “I think what you find is that it’s not necessarily that they have got a springboard in there.”

Since the summer of 2010, Obama administration officials have been consistently claiming that 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives are present in Afghanistan. The claims of a limited presence of al Qaeda have been used to justify US disengagement from Afghanistan.

But a study by The Long War Journal that looks at ISAF’s own reports on its raids against al Qaeda since 2007 paints a different picture. Since 2007, ISAF has conducted 357 reported raids against al Qaeda and allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, in Balkh, Farah, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Sar-i-Pul, Takhar, Wardak, and Zabul, or 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Many of these raids have taken place over the past three years.

ISAF data on the location of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan is mirrored by al Qaeda’s propaganda. Al Qaeda routinely reports on its Afghan operations in Vanguards of Khorasan, a magazine produced for its members and supporters. Al Qaeda has reported on operations in all of the provinces in which ISAF has conducted raids.

Al Qaeda operatives serve as military advisers to the Taliban, and also fight in small formations throughout the country.

At the end of June, after completing its transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces, ISAF stopped reporting on its raids against al Queda, shutting off information on the targeting of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan.

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The Long War Journal

http://www.longwarjournal.org

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