US Targets Two Senior al-Qaeda Leaders in Afghanistan

The U.S Department of Defense announced on Wednesday night that two senior al-Qaeda leaders were targeted in airstrikes in eastern Kunar Province on October 23.

The two are Faruq al Qatani, who has long served as one of al-Qaeda’s top commanders in Afghanistan, and Bilal al Utabi. Both of them have been involved in al-Qaeda’s efforts to strike the U.S and the West, according to the Pentagon.

“We are still assessing the results of the strikes, but their demise would represent a significant blow to the terrorist group’s presence in Afghanistan, which remains committed to facilitating attacks against the United States, our allies, and partners,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

Qatani has been al-Qaeda’s “emir for northeastern Afghanistan” and was “assigned by the group’s leadership to re-establish al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan,” according to Cook. He was also “a senior planner for attacks against the United States, and has a long history of directing deadly attacks against U.S forces and our coalition allies.”

The Pentagon’s description of Qatani mirrors the short biography provided by the Treasury Department in February, when Qatani was added to the U.S government’s list of designated terrorists.

In addition to his responsibilities inside Afghanistan, Treasury said Qatani has contributed to “al-Qaeda’s external operations planning,” meaning plots against the West.

The Pentagon connected Bilal al Utabi to al-Qaeda’s anti-Western plans as well.

Utabi “is assessed to have been involved in efforts to re-establish a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to threaten the West, and in efforts to recruit and train foreign fighters,” Cook said.

He added that Qatani and Utabi were targeted “after an extensive period of surveillance…at what was assessed as command-and-control locations in remote areas of Kunar province.”

“If these strikes are determined to be successful,” his press release continued, then “eliminating these core leaders of al-Qaeda will disrupt efforts to plot against the United States and our allies and partners around the world, reduce the threat to our Afghan partners, and assist their efforts to deny al-Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan.”

As The Long War Journal previously reported, Qatani’s importance to al-Qaeda can be seen in declassified files recovered during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011.

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