Now that “world’s number one terrorist leader” is dead, it’s time for all the high-fives. Baghdadi is dead and terrorism is likely to recede. Maybe not. Now that U.S. Special Operations, in conjunction with the CIA, have carried out the successful operation in Syria, there’s little time to waste. There’s another region that needs immediate attention. There’s Al Qaeda to watch out for, as well. It’s the country where Kalmay Khalilzad arrived on Sunday to talk peace again: Afghanistan.
After Afghanistan’s intelligence agency confirmed the death of Asim Umar, the leader of Al Qaeda’s South Asia affiliate, in a joint U.S.-Afghan raid conducted in Helmand last month, it may have posed more questions than it answered. Before delving into the policy implications, looking briefly at Asim Umar’s background might be useful.
After Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi laid the foundation of the Islamic State in the summer of 2014, Ayman Al-Zawahiri may have felt the need for some sort of reorganization within his own ranks, too. Remember: terrorist groups with seemingly similar ideologies don’t really cooperate with each other all the time; they, in fact, compete as well. Anyways, that’s for some other time. Almost three months into Baghdadi’s proclamation, Al-Zawahiri announced the launch of the group’s South Asia branch: Qaedat al-Jihad. And, it didn’t surprise many when Asim Umar, former commander of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was named as the “Emir.” As a side note, and to be better able to connect the dots, the TTP (considered a regional outlawed organization) declared allegiance to the Islamic State soon after their former strongman’s ascent to power in the ranks of Al Qaeda.