Afghan officials have publicly identified several of the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) members who were killed during an operation in Helmand province earlier this week. The raid quickly proved to be controversy, as some reports indicate that dozens of civilians perished during the clash in Musa Qala, a known Taliban stronghold.
According to a Twitter account associated with the National Directorate of Security (NDS), “Afghan Special Forces 6 Al-Qaeda terrorists embedded within a Taliban unit in their hideout in Musa Qala, Helmand.” The AQIS jihadists were known locally as “fedayee” and “came from Waziristan, Chaman, and Peshawar.”
The NDS further identified the deceased AQIS “key leaders and operatives” as: Raihan, who served as an “AQIS courier to AQ leader,” Ayman al-Zawahiri; Faizani, an “explosives expert & AQIS head in Helmand”; Madani, an “AQIS deputy in Helmand”; Quraishi, who was “Faizani’s assistant”; and two others known as Sahil and Keramat.
Afghanistan’s National Security Council (NSC), which reports to President Ghani, reported yesterday that the “joint operation” was intended to eliminate “a high-profile Al-Qaeda group embedded with Taliban leaders in a compound in Musa Qala.”
The Afghan NSC identified the main target as Asim Umar, the first leader of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), as he was thought to be “in the compound and a target of the operation.” The NSC didn’t say that Umar was killed, but did claim that his “courier,” now identified as “Raihan,” was killed. Six Pakistani women, including Umar’s wife, were also among those taken into custody.
If those details check out, and Asim Umar’s courier and wife were at the Musa Qala location, then there were good reasons to suspect that AQIS’s first emir may also be present.
The NDS account says 17 “Taliban members were also killed,” including “Taliban leaders from various districts who had congregated in the compound.” One of them is identified as “Haji Mahmood,” a “Taliban military commander for Nawzad” District in Helmand.
In addition to arrest “14 terrorists,” many of whom are reportedly “Pakistani citizens” the Afghans say they also seized: 25 night vision goggles, “homemade explosives, a suicide vest, hand grenades, a motorcycle rigged with explosives, [a] huge amount of ammunition and foreign currency in cash.”
The NDS-affiliated account posted photos of the seized weaponry, explosives and cash, as well as pictures of some of the jihadists killed. Most of these images can be seen below.
American and Afghan officials have said that they are investigating reports of civilian casualties. Various press reports have indicated that as many as dozens of people, including women and children, were killed. The Taliban has publicized pictures of some of the deceased. And one image, heavily promoted in the Taliban’s messaging, shows a young boy with a blood-spattered face.