Al-Qaeda’s South Asia chief Asim Umar killed in Afghanistan

KABUL:The leader of Al-Qaeda’s South Asian branch was killed in a US-Afghan joint raid in southern Afghanistan last month, Afghan officials confirmed Tuesday.

Asim Umar, who led Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS from its inceon in 2014, was killed during a raid September 23 on a Taliban compound in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security said Umar was a Pakistani citizen, though some reports claim he was born in India.

He “was #killed along with six other AQIS members, most of them Pakistani”, the NDS said on Twitter, adding that Umar had been “embedded” with the Taliban.

The raid was part of a lengthy and confusing overnight operation from September 22-23 for which the US provided air support.

Authorities said they would investigate reports that 40 civilians, including children, were killed in an airstrike during the operation.

The NDS said that among the six other AQIS members killed in the raid was a man identified as “Raihan”, a courier for Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

US Forces-Afghanistan declined to comment.

Under a stalled withdrawal plan negotiated between the US and the Taliban, Washington agreed to pull troops from Afghanistan if the insurgents abide by security guarantees and cut all ties with Al-Qaeda.

The US and the Taliban had been negotiating for a year to reach a deal that would have cut US forces in Afghanistan and could have paved the way to a reduction in violence, but President Donald Trump scuttled that agreement last month, citing Taliban violence.

Even if the deal had been finalised, observers doubted whether the Taliban would ever really separate from Al-Qaeda.

The US invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001 attacks against America.

The middle-aged Umar was relatively unknown when he was picked to lead the newly created AQIS in 2014.

The jihadist branch was established to try to rouse fighters in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

An Afghan Taliban source said in 2014 that Umar had worked with the Punjabi Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP chapter in Pakistan’s most populous province, for some years before linking up with Al-Qaeda.

Umar — an alias — was named by al-Zawahiri in a video message.

A Pakistani intelligence official said Umar had travelled to Syria, though it was not possible to confirm this.