A Nameless, Faceless Maybe Imaginary Enemy

by Joshua Foust on 4/23/2011 · 11 comments

ISAF claims to have captured a “top IMU leader” in Kunduz province.

Combined forces captured the top Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan terrorist group leader in Afghanistan April 20 in the Khanabad district of Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, military officials reported today.

Troops had been conducting clearing operations in search of the leader for several weeks, officials said, noting he’s the direct contact between Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leadership in Pakistan, and is responsible for training and operations in both countries.

NATO and Afghan forces throughout Afghanistan have killed more than 20 Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan terrorists in the past two months, including four senior leaders, officials added.

I get that there’s a big push to go after the IMU in northern Afghanistan, even if you might accidentally maim a few Members of Parliament in the process. But who is this guy? ISAF rarely names its detainees unless they are big names or have a strategic effect in being taken off the battlefield; if this IMU leader is as big a deal as this press release claims he is, why isn’t he being named?

BBC reporter Bilal Sarway tweeted that the guy’s alias is “Hanzala.” That, however, sounds made up, and I was unable to find any reference in the last years to the name “Hanzala” associated with “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” or “IMU” on Lexis-Nexis. (I did learn that a Mullah Hanzala reconciled with the government in Helmand but was killed by an exploding mine, and the district chief of Moqur in Badghis is names Hanzala as well, but that’s not really helpful.)

Given ISAF’s habit of tagging low-level nobodies and trying to spin it as Serious Moves Against The Insurgency, I’m scratching my head how this could be a legit story, and not another Mohammad Amin.

Here’s the other thing: the IMU aren’t stupid. They know there’s a campaign to go after them. If this guy was really, like, the seniorest of all senior field commanders, what on earth was he doing in a beleaguered area of Kunduz? The Uzbek militants in Afghanistan are many things, including monsters. But they are not stupid.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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anan April 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm

209th ANA Corps, Kunduz ANP, provincial governor and NDS are making progress in Kunduz. Wouldn’t give all the credit to ISAF.

Could the ANSF have leaked this IMU capture, causing the ISAF press release?

Kunduz hasn’t yet seen the usual spring offensive, unlike the East and Zabul. One of the themes of this year’s offensive appears to be to break 201st ANA Corps and the provincial AUP in their AO.

Don Bacon April 23, 2011 at 10:47 pm

It tickles me how the U.S. can change leaders like laundry and always improve the situation (McKiernam, McChrystal, Petraeus) but when the U.S. forces the enemy to do so (if true) it has to be bad, and this is true at every level. Not.

intelgal April 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Hanzala is an Urdu name, it’s not made up. Not sure if it is the name of the IMU leader detained, but I’d be hesitant to take a BBC reporter tweet as Positive ID.

This IMU leader is being billed by ISAF as the Top IMU leader for AFG, but keep in mind that the previous Top Leader, Bilal Konduzi, was killed back on 10 March, so you have to wonder about the strategic impact of rolling up someone that has only been in the position for a few weeks. I also suspect that withholding the name has more to do with Operations Security than conspiracy.

There is reporting of IMU terrorist camps in Kunduz and there’s been increased ISAF activity in that Province in the last few months. So, I think rather than asking “What is the top guy doing in a beleaguered area of Kunduz?”, the more interesting question to ask would be “What is going on in Kunduz that would have the Top leader of IMU in AFG located there?”

Joshua Foust April 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I know it’s a Pakistani name. An Uzbek wouldn’t have that name. The BBC reporter was quoting Afghan officials, who said they got it from ISAF. Your info here confirms to me at least that they probably don’t really know who or what they got. Never implied conspiracy, just that it is a stupid policy to brag of a nailing a senior figure while simultaneously refusing to release his name. Your last question is the same as mine.

anan April 25, 2011 at 12:25 am

I don’t think it is inconcievable for an Uzbek to have the name Hanzala.

Josh, you should ask 209th Corps this question [since they might actually respond.] Until then we are all going by heresay.

Another note to consider [not sure it applies in this case], sometimes the intel for this sort of thing comes from NDS. It is not uncommon for NDS not to share it with MoI and MoD. One of the biggest problems in Afghanistan is intelligence sharing between the ANA Corps level G2s [chief intel officers] and the NDS.

It seems to me that the NDS generally has the best intelligence of all the many scores of intelligence organizations operating in Afghanistan. Does anyone disagree?

intelgal April 25, 2011 at 5:52 am

I think its interesting that no one is even remotely considering non-Uzbeks might be IMU members.

Anan, you make a great point on the intel sharing, which can indeed be problematic. I’d agree with your statement about NDS. It can be a mixed bag, like any organization, but there are still quite a few around who were Soviet trained.

CE April 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

According to Pajhwok, his name is Qari Bilal.

Qari Bilal was detained at the residence of another IMU leader, Qari Sibghatullah, during a clearing operation in Khanabad district, the provincial police chief, Brig. Samiullah Qatra, told Pajhwok Afghan News.

The detainee was involved in a series of assaults on Afghan and foreign forces in northeastern Afghanistan, particularly in Kunduz, the police chief said. The commander, an Uzbek citizen, allegedly sneaked into Kunduz from Pakistan’s Quetta city.

Joshua Foust April 25, 2011 at 10:38 am

I dunno, man. That’s very obviously a non de guerre (I can think of at least two other “senior taliban commanders” named Qari Bilal). I’m not sure that really narrows down who this guy was.

And again, that doesn’t answer just how someone with a mark on his head this big goes about sneaking from Quetta to Khan Abad, which is like a REALLY long distance through some of the most heavily surveilled territory on the planet.

Robson May 3, 2011 at 5:09 am

Kunduz is known as a IMU stronghold. About one year ago the US ministry of Defensie published a map with insurgent areas of operations in Afghanistan.

At the moment, after a campaign against insurgents in Kunduz, which was lasting from October untill Januari, and which is still going on, many leaders went to the surrounding provinces.


Robson May 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm

In the “divide and rule” strategy parties often have to choose, or they do. And we all know how western democracies often assisting the most bloody dictatorships around the world for military and economic purposes.

When will we see Afghan warlords , resposible for the destruction of Afghanistan, facing the law? In nowadays Afghanistan they work close together with Karzai, the US and NATO.

(Another example: The Dutch company Shell is getting oil out of Nigeria, meanwhile destroying the environment there. How can a country like the Netherlands allow a Dutch company act like this?)

Turgai May 3, 2011 at 8:27 am

“The Uzbek militants in Afghanistan are many things, including monsters.”

Well, is that more or less monster than their main opponents: the state terrorist Karimov and his bloodhounds?

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