TALIBAN COMMANDER DESCRIBES OFFENSIVE IN AFGHANISTAN’S NORTHERN PROVINCES
Ongoing Taliban military operations in northern Afghanistan were recently described by Khalid Haidari, the “official in charge of [Taliban] military affairs” in the province of Faryab, on the border with Turkmenistan (Voice of Jihad, May 17). The population of Faryab is largely Uzbek and Turkmen, with a sizeable Parsiwan minority (a Shi’a Tajik sub-group). Located far from the Pashtun-dominated regions of the south, where most Taliban operations take place, Faryab has been relatively peaceful since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Despite the lack of Pashtuns in Faryab, Haidari insists that the “mujahid people” of Faryab province have supported the Taliban both financially and with manpower. “The reality, contrary to what was in the past, is that the north is not a tranquil area for the internal and foreign enemies either.” Last year, the Taliban appointed Abdul Hamid Akhundzada as “governor” of Faryab province, but Akhundzada was soon killed in a raid by security forces after they received a tip-off regarding his location (Reuters, July 19, 2008).
Haidari denies the Coalition claims that the north has been cleared of mujahideen, explaining that this is a routine reaction by Coalition forces when they fail to expand the areas under their control. The Taliban leader claimed to have recently inflicted a “shameful defeat” on the enemy in “face to face fighting” that has left the Coalition in a defensive state, only able to venture out of the urban areas with an escort of dozens of tanks and aircraft.
Regarding the forthcoming Afghan elections, Haidari maintains they are nothing more than “a conspiracy by the Americans. We are seriously trying to prevent them… This is because elections in the presence of invaders are a great betrayal of Islam and the homeland.” He urged all Afghans to refrain from voting or from working in the elections.
Haidari dispensed with the coming American “surge” in Afghanistan by noting that the more troops the enemy deploys, the greater the opportunity for Taliban fighters to inflict casualties. “If our faith and belief is strong and we rely on God alone, the decrease or increase in the number of foreign soldiers or their equipment will not affect our activities.”
Faryab province is in the German-controlled sector of Afghanistan, known as Regional Command North. In response to a request from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) last year, German forces carried out a joint operation with the Afghan army designed to flush out Taliban fighters who infiltrated Faryab and neighboring Badghis province (Deutsche Welle, May 16, 2008). The German mandate calls for military operations in Afghanistan to be of a limited nature. Another 1,000 troops are on their way to join Germany’s ISAF force in northern Afghanistan, bringing the size of the force up to 4,500 troops. Four Taliban fighters were killed in an encounter with Afghan police in Faryab on May 12 (Reuters, May 12).
CHANGES TO AL-SHABAAB LEADERSHIP AS MILITANTS CLOSE IN ON MOGADISHU
Even as Somalia’s militant al-Shabaab movement closes in on the capital of Mogadishu in league with its allies in the Hizb al-Islam coalition, there are signs that a major shakeup in the Shabaab leadership is under way.
On May 21, Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage, who is also known as Shaykh Ali Dheere, replaced al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur” (Radio Simba, May 21; Shabelle Media Network, May 22). Abu Mansur has long been the public face of al-Shabaab as well as its most prominent field commander. His successor was previously the al-Shabaab chairman in Hiran region. Abu Mansur said at a press conference that he welcomed the move, though his new role in the movement was not outlined and little has been heard from him since the change was made. The transition appeared amicable, but no explanation was offered for the surprising move.
There have been unconfirmed reports of differences within al-Shabaab’s leadership, particularly over the movement’s continuing Salafist-inspired destruction of Somalia’s Sufi Muslim heritage, which has inspired a new Sufi-based movement, Ahlu Sunna Wa’l-Jama’a, to take up arms against al-Shabaab. However, a new round of destruction of Sufi shrines and tombs in the Bardhere district of Gedo region indicates that no change has occurred to this controversial policy (see Terrorism Focus, February 6).
Shaykh Fu’ad Abdullahi, the local al-Shabaab leader explained the demolition of tombs by al-Shabaab forces outside the port city of Kismayo in early May: “The destroyed gravesites were places where people worshipped and this is forbidden by Islam” (Garowe Online, May 6). The government’s implementation of Shari’a (Islamic law) in Somalia, a principal aim of al-Shabaab, may also have created divisions within the movement.
The replacement of Abu Mansur occurred just days after al-Shabaab’s official leader was seriously injured. The more reclusive Amir (Commander) of al-Shabaab, Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr” (a.k.a. Ahmad Abdi Aw Muhammad, a.k.a Shaykh Mukhtar “Abu Zubayr”), appears to have been killed or incapacitated by an accidental bomb-making explosion at a safe house outside Mogadishu on May 17.
Shaykh Abdi Godane was seriously wounded in what was variously described as a training exercise with explosives, a car bomb that detonated prematurely, or an incident involving a Pakistani suicide bomber who accidentally crossed the wrong wires while being fitted with his suicide vest (Garowe Online, May 18, May 20; Waagacusub.com, May 18). As many as 17 Shabaab members may have been killed in the blast, including a number of leaders present for a meeting with Abdi Godane and at least three Pakistani volunteers. Only days before, the normally reticent Abdi Godane issued an 11-minute audiotape condemning the new government of Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, in which he states, “The so-called government cannot be described as an Islamic government, because it was created to destroy Islamists in Somalia” (Garowe Online, May 13). The Shaykh made clear al-Shabaab’s commitment to a global jihad, saying "We will fight and the wars will not end until Islamic Shari’a is implemented in all continents in the world and until Muslims liberate Jerusalem… The fighting in Mogadishu is between the forces of Allah and elements whose intention is to introduce democracy and Jewish theories, so we ask the population in the capital to choose the right path." (AFP, May 13). Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane is believed to have organized several suicide bombings in Somalia and Somaliland (see Terrorism Monitor, December 8, 2008).
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