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Kashmiri’s Death and the Future of Al-Qaeda in Af-Pak Region

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Kashmiri’s Death and the Future of Al-Qaeda in Af-Pak Region

Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the highest ranking operational commanders of Al-Qaeda, has reportedly been killed in a U.S. drone attack on a compound in South Waziristan on Friday June 03, 2011. This will mark the end for one of the most notorious militant leaders of South Asia in recent decades. Both inside and outside the infamous militant outfit, the so-called 313 Brigade, which he established, the 47-year old Ilyas Kashmiri was a legendary leader to hundreds and thousands of his die-hard followers.

His death is in reality another severe blow, after the alleged killing of Osama bin Laden, to the command and control structure of Al-Qaeda active in the tribal areas and the broader Af-Pak region as well as other militant outfits such as Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami with which he had maintained close ties. In recent years, Ilyas Kashmiri had proceeded to become the chief strategist of Al-Qaeda in the tribal areas having merged his 313 Brigade with Al-Qaeda. He cultivated close ties with other militant outfits throughout South Asia and plotted terror attacks from Mumbai to Europe and further to the U.S. shores.

As a veteran of war against Soviets in Afghanistan, Ilyas Kashmiri's Jihadi career of more than 25 years took him from battling the Red Army to fighting the Indian army in Kashmir, masterminding and organizing terror plots and sleeper cells of Jihadis in Europe and America and of course, fighting the U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan especially after 2007 when he relocated to Waziristan tribal areas along the Pak-Afghan border. As the chief military strategist of Al-Qaeda present in the tribal areas, he was competing with other mostly Arab-origin Al-Qaeda commanders for ever greater influence within the hierarchy of the organization.

Ilyas Kashmiri took his first major plunge into the world of militancy during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when he was tasked with training Afghan guerrillas to fight against the Soviet army here in Afghanistan. Later, pleased with having defeated a superpower of the time, he was among the groups of so-called "die-hard veterans" of Afghan war who rushed to Kashmir to fight against the Indians.

As a member of Harakt-ul-Jihad al-Islami, he gradually built his reputation as a staunch militant commander and gained unparalleled expertise in guerrilla battles and tactics of asymmetric warfare. Over years, he turned against the Pakistani military or to be precise, against a section of the military comprised of some high ranking officials who saw him as a threat.

As widely reported, in 2003 he masterminded an assassination attempt on Parvez Musharraf from which the then Pakistani President escaped unhurt. In 2007 and after the siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad, he shifted base to Waziristan tribal areas effectively joining the Al-Qaeda and forging close links with Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan while maintaining close links with other militant outfits throughout South Asia. The audacious Mehran Naval Base attack of last month in Karachi was the handiwork of Ilyas Kashmiri and his – now a part of Al-Qaeda – 313 Brigade, according to Sayed Saleem Shahzad, the slain Pakistani journalist of credible repute.

Al-Qaeda after Kashmiri's death
The killing of Ilyas Kashmiri is no doubt a serious blow, at least over the short-term, to the command and control structure and operational capabilities of Al-Qaeda based in the tribal areas and active in the so-called AfPak region. This is given the senior leadership position that he occupied as the chief strategist of Al-Qaeda and chief of the feared 313 Brigade. His killing is a monumental loss to Al-Qaeda since Kashmiri, as a Pakistani himself, had an extensive network of old and new contacts within the Pakistani security establishment as well as the South Asian Diaspora communities in Europe and North America. Perhaps the fact that he was a highly experienced and versatile local with a cache of valuable contacts made him, in the eyes of Al-Qaeda, fit to be the military strategist for the organization.

Ilyas Kashmiri was an expert in designing and executing commando-style operations of the kind that we witnessed during the Mumbai attacks in 2008. David Coleman Headley, admittedly, the CIA-Lashkar-i-Tayyeba double agent; implicated for providing help in planning the Mumbai attacks, has testified to the role that Kashmiri played in planning the Mumbai attacks. Kashmiri's killing deprives Lashkar-I-Tayyeba, Haqqani network, Jaish-e-Mohammad and a host of other militant groups from the highly sought expertise, resources and assistance that he could provide to them. His elimination brings a sigh of relief to a broad section of Pakistani security establishment that increasingly saw him as a grave threat especially after the Mehran Naval Base attack.

However, Kashmiri's killing might not produce the desired effects to the extent that Al-Qaeda's operations and its future plans can be severely disrupted in the tribal areas. In spite of the fact that Al-Qaeda has never been a coherent and cohesive organization and its individual units have operated with relative autonomy from one another in different parts of the world, the threat that Al-Qaeda based in the tribal areas poses is still substantial even after years of sustained counter-terrorism campaigns by the U.S.-led War on Terror coalition. Another dimension to the matter is that Al-Qaeda in tribal areas is primarily comprised of Arab-origin fighters and the fact that Ilyas Kashmiri was one of its few non-Arab senior commanders makes it highly likely that the Arab core of Al-Qaeda, despite the setback, will be able to press ahead with its plans and operations as in the past.

We may never know whether the whole of story of killing of Osama bin Laden during the Abbottabad operation in May and spewed by the U.S. government was genuine or not. The suspicious scenario narrated by the Obama Administration and yet frequently changed after the day of the operation was the smoking gun that severely undermined the veracity of the story. Furthermore, there had been credible reports pointing to the possibility that Osama bin Laden had indeed died years ago, probably towards the end of 2001 or in subsequent years. The credibility of the sources of these reports in addition to the obviously fake video footages of him released in 2007 make it highly likely that Osama had indeed died years prior to the day of his alleged killing.

Anyhow, the U.S. government and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in spite of what they consider as a laudable achievement in killing of Osama, did not scale back their operations against the Al-Qaeda and have taken out Ilyas Kashmiri, another high-value target. The significance of death of Kashmiri, among other things, is that it ushers in a new chapter in the long battle against Al-Qaeda in particular and religious extremism in general.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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