One of al-Qaida’s top leaders was killed in a raid by Afghan forces last month, bringing an abrupt end to his 40-year-long terrorist career.
Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a close ally of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed Jan. 9, according to Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security. While it is unusual that it took over a month to confirm Akhtar’s death, it represents a crucial blow to al-Qaida’s operations in Afghanistan.
Akhtar ran “a terrorist hub in the Bagram and Reshkor regions of Kabul province,” said the NDS, as reported by the Long War Journal Sunday. Neither al-Qaida, nor the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which Akhtar commanded, has confirmed his death.
Despite his known terrorist affiliation, Akhtar was a known Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency operative in the 1980s when he was fighting the Russians. While Pakistan is technically a U.S. ally, the ISI is known to maintain connections to U.S.-designated terrorist organizations. In fact, Akhtar was so crucial to ISI relations, he was released from custody four times, the most recent being 2010, according to the Long War Journal.
Akhtar’s presence in Afghanistan exemplifies al-Qaida’s recent transfers of top leaders to Afghanistan. The U.S. drone strike program heavily targeted terrorist leaders within Pakistan, causing many to flee to Afghanistan, which was much safer in comparison since the U.S. military draw-down in 2011.
Terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State, have made a disturbing amount of progress in the last few years. U.S forces have been engaging with the Taliban almost daily, reported Army Gen. John Nicholson in July.