Al Qaeda leader killed in Kunar, Afghanistan’s “safe haven”

April 26, 2011

For some time, Pakistan has been complaining that it is unfairly criticised for failing to fight al Qaeda-linked insurgents on its side of the border when U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan are also struggling to make headway. This has been particularly the case in Bajaur, where Pakistan said its own military operation against militants were undermined by a decision to pull Western troops back from neighbouring Kunar in Afghanistan. The row over who is to blame for not doing enough to prevent militants moving back and forth across the border between Bajaur and Kunar has been both a reflection of the distrust in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship,  and a persistent source of strain.

The mantra, repeated so often that it is rarely questioned, is that al Qaeda’s safe havens are in Pakistan. That is partially true – the organisation is believed to have secure bases in various parts of Pakistan’s tribal areas.  But Pakistani officials respond by saying that al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents also have safe havens inside Afghanistan. And just as the Pakistan Army is unwilling to fight in every part of the tribal areas at once – it has resisted U.S. pressure to launch a full-scale military operation in North Waziristan – the U.S. Army is also reluctant to spread out its troops too thinly, choosing instead to focus on populated areas.

So it’s interesting to note the language used about the killing in an air strike of senior al Qaeda leader Abu Hafs al-Najdi, a man described as the second-most wanted insurgent in Afghanistan. An International Security Assistance Force statement said Najdi, a Saudi Arabian also known as Abdul Ghani, was killed in  Kunar.

The ISAF statement said that Najdi “operated primarily from Kunar and traveled frequently between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He directed al Qaeda operations in the province, including recruiting; training and employing fighters; obtaining weapons and equipment; organizing al Qaeda finances; and planning attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.” (my italics)

 It added that “Abdul Ghani regularly circulated throughout Kunar, establishing insurgent camps and training sites, teaching insurgents explosive device construction and attack procedures. He was also a key financial conduit between Pakistan-based leaders and insurgent operatives in Afghanistan. ”

“The al Qaeda network and its safe havens remains a top priority for Afghan and coalition forces. In the last month, coalition forces have killed more than 25 al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and the death of Abdul Ghani marks a significant milestone in the disruption of the al Qaeda network.”

I don’t recall seeing that expression “safe havens” used much before in ISAF statements about al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. Usually the phrase used repeated by Western officials is “safe havens in Pakistan“.

There are many reasons for the distrust between the United States and Pakistan, including U.S. suspicions that Islamabad/Rawalpindi provides support to Taliban insurgents fighting in Afghanistan – an accusation it denies –  and Pakistani anger over U.S. drone attacks on its territory.  But it is also stoked by the use of language that refuses to acknowledge the grey areas – and the challenges – on both sides of the border.

As a post-script,  it is worth noting that Bajaur-Kunar has been cited in the past as a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri  – see for example former president Pervez Musharraf in this 2007 WikiLeaks cable.  The Asia Times last month cited intelligence reports  about bin Laden’s  presence on the borders of Bajaur and Kunar.  Bin Laden sightings have been sporadic over the years and never confirmed. It would however, be difficult for any western official to say in public, nearly 10 years into the war, that the man responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States is hiding in a safe haven in Afghanistan.


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Do you sit around looking for ways to pen apologia for the ISI/Pak military points of view?

FYI, are there NATO garrisons in Kunar which are a walking distance away from Taliban/Al Qaeda bases, similar to Miranshah where the Pak army has a garrison right next to a Haqqani network “Campus”?

When was the last time Pakistan has launched an operation or even an aerial strike on a Haqqani commander, similar to the NATO attack that killed Najdi and Ghani?

Does NATO have a “peace deal” with a local warlord in Kunar who openly supports Al Qaeda similar to the Pak army’s deals with Maulvi Nazir or Hafiz Gul Bahadur?

Is NATO pushing for a role in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan for the Kunar Al Qaeda, similar to what Kayani is demanding for the Haqqanis?

Posted by SilverSw0rd | Report as abusive

“I don’t recall seeing that expression “safe havens” used much before in ISAF statements about al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. ….“.

The above statement implies that the ISAF used the term ‘safe havens’ in Afghanistan. Thereby implying that it is some kind of admission by the ISAF.

Yet, Myra has also stated “But Pakistani officials respond by saying that al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents also have safe havens inside Afghanistan.”

This reference to the ‘safe havens’ in Afghanistan is made by Pakistan and is not a statement made by the ISAF as claimed by Myra.

Sorry but am I missing something here? Or is this more window dressing?

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Sorry, forgot to mention also that the ISAF statement which talks of ‘safe havens’ is general and does not point to them being in Afghanistan. “The al Qaeda network and its safe havens remains a top priority for Afghan and coalition forces.”

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Do you sit around looking for ways to pen apologia for the ISI/Pak military points of view?
Posted by SilverSw0rd

Myra’s writings and Umair’s comments are indistinguishable. Different font sizes help.
There is a competition between them to show who is more loyal to PA/ISI. :-) 1/04/26/pakistans_hypocrisy_has_run_its_ course_it_needs_a_new_relationship_with_ us

Pakistan’s hypocrisy has run its course; it needs a new relationship with U.S.
Posted By Thomas E. Ricks Tuesday, April 26, 2011 – 11:08 AM

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive

As FOB chapman was bombed killing seven CIA agents including the chief of forward operating base in Khost Afghanistan in Dec 2009. CIA suffered its single largest casualty after the Beirut boming almost 25 years back. It bounced back with a campaign of relentless drone strikes in Af-Pak border region.
However, in recent weeks ISI appears to have regained the initiative, shut down and expelled a drone base within Pakistan, curtailed the CIA espionage network. As the end game nears in Afghanistan, Pakistan is increasingly becoming more assertive and appears to take on the US face to face. The recent missile test of NASR also is an indication the country is ready to demonstrate its offensive strike capability.
Time to end funding both sides of the conflict, time to call it a day and go home. Atlest no one can expect ISI to be a sitting duck on its home turf. Better yet, just as Turkey rejected $32 billions and refused to offer bases to US to attack Iraq. Pakistan too should now turn to Islamic countries, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Malaysia and sort out the Afghan mess. The US/NATO/ISAF have failed, no one can bail them out, atleast not the Pakistan Army or ISI.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk: “The US/NATO/ISAF have failed, no one can bail them out, atleast not the Pakistan Army or ISI.”

Why wasn’t this done in 2001? What was different between then and now? Pakistan was in a much better position in 2001 than it is today. There were no suicide bombers blowing people up inside Pakistan, there was no TTP and economy was not this much in shambles. If the decision was made to align with the US then, how does it become beneficial to reject this alignment when Pakistan has been sufficiently weakened. Missiles and strike capability may not mean much. Everything depends upon monetary resources to back up an attack and the retaliation that follows it. The US can fight a war from a distance. It is very clear that they are not capable of winning ground wars. But they can inflict tremendous damage using aerial bombardment. They had the upper hand when they drove Al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan by relentless bombing. They pulled all the teeth from Gadaffi by sending in missiles. Even now in Libya, aerial attacks and drones seem to help the rebels. Pakistan cannot look forwards to help from Arab nations now because they all are engaged in their own survival against the rebellion that they are facing. Alignments are changing in the Middle East. Moderate people are gaining an upper hand. If that is the case, a hardcore Islamic revolution in Pakistan may not find much support. And the US can trigger a rebellion inside Pakistan, much like that in Libya and aid the rebels by supporting with aerial attacks. Going head on with the US is not an option. Petraeus is going to head the CIA now and Panetta is taking over from Gates. This will also shift the strategy and might intensify the friction between Pakistan and the US.

From what I have been reading, Pakistan is frustrated because the US has figured out a way to handle the war without relying on the ISI and its network. And Pakistan wants to be the conduit for such operations and they are realizing that the Americans have built a network themselves making reliance on Pakistan irrelevant. This will lead to the net nearing on Pakistan’s militant assets. Hence Pakistan has begun to rebel openly. Obama wants to show results for his reelection. And he might be tightening the screws further. Pakistan might face financial isolation.

Something for your strategists to think about. Jingoism will not get you out of the hole.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

[…] killed in KabulXinhuaAfghan pilot shoots dead eight Nato troopsThe GuardianIndian Express -Reuters (blog) -Slate Magazineall 1,259 news […]

Posted by Nato troops record 20 incidents where Afghan security forces have ‘turned’ – The Guardian | DavnecNews | Report as abusive

It is an understatement to say Pakistan “might” face financial isolation. It is already there.

PA/ISI have plans for military aggression, sponsoring terroism, etc but ZERO plans for economy and internal anarchy. Both of these will be acclerating and will be feeding on each other.

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive

There is a news item stating Gilani asks Karzai to dump USA and join China.
This is further proof of delusional thinking of Paks. They are in no position to completely, openly antagonize the West. Switching masters will not help.

Building, establishing a viabl nation state has never been on the agenda of Paks. C. Rajamohan has written an illustrative piece on this attitude. rcenaries/778441/1

‘Pak mercenaries’

Nothing illustrates the difference between the strategic cultures of India and Pakistan than their attitudes towards risk. India would want to avoid any risk in conducting its foreign policy, while Pakistan boldly courts it.

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive

To get fully informed, go to the Wall Street article here: 052748704729304576287041094035816.html?m od=WSJ_World_LeadStory

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive

Karzai can get dumped by the US if he moves against them. His security is being handled by Americans. All they have to do is withdraw that security and let him face the wolves. It is not possible to go through without the US approval on anything. He is a puppet run by the US. If he has ideas on his own, the US might change things at the top. Asking for relationship with China is the worst approach, especially when the US is involved.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

The duplicitous nature of Pakistani diplomacy and their international ‘intentions’ are dangerous games played in the name of Islam.

And a turn to Communist China will yield what? A surge in dollars and weapons to what end?

The US has not withheld its intentions should terrorists be located…where ever they may be found. Why play such a game?

The US has for a very long time known Pakistan’s ISI are a troop of Islamist snake handlers. And it is likely elements of the Pak army are no different. Tell Pakistan of the kill OBL operation? What a joke.

Pakistan can continue the descent into darkness, or come into the world of the living.

One can only hope they will.

Posted by NobleKin | Report as abusive

Slowly but steadily Pakistan leaders are becoming aware of the continued fall of the Imperial America. The rats are now leaving the sinking ship, is the appropriate historical reference. MR Zardari should stop conning America, he should be satisfied with the ten percent and not one hundred percent.It is not a secret that Mr Karzai is one of the influential Pashtoon leader and for them their family Pashtoons comes first regardless of the fact if they live on the Afghan side or the Pakistan side. Pakistan army mostly made up of non Pashtoons have been shooting in their own feet by intruding into the Pashtoon territory and simply succeded in disturbing the stability of the area, taking heavy casualties.

What the USA has done was, in my opinion, in full collusion with the Pakistan leaders including military and the ISI. The timing of the final act was not revealed to Pakistan and this was shabby and mean. I believe it was at the request of the CIA chief who under clinton failed to hit in Afghanistan Mr Osama with T missiles. Mr Obama did not even trust his wife with this sensible info. The USA is known for this behaviour with its allies during the ww2 campaign. Mr Panela underestimated the sensitivity of the Pakistanis.

The vulgarity that some American public showed at the death of a human is also unprecedented in a christian country. Pakistan leaders have no choice but to change course to regain their dignity. This episode provides them the opportunity to rest its course unless they want to face the all out civil war?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

The question comes to my mind, Mr Musharaf did not have the balls to cofront USA(he denies it) or perhaps out of sincerity towards the death of innocents in NY, does kyani have the balls at all considering that he was appointed by Mr Musharaf?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive