Map of Mosul. Click map to view.
As US and Iraqi security forces position forces to remove al Qaeda in Iraq from its last urban stronghold, Multinational Forces Iraq killed two senior Saudi al Qaeda operatives in the northern city. Multinational Forces Iraq announced today it killed Abu Yasir al Saudi and Hamdan during a helicopter strike at the end of February.
Abu Yasir al Saudi was al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir, or leader, of southeastern Mosul. Yasir fought NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan prior to arriving in Mosul in August 2007 “with a group of foreign terrorists,” Multinational Forces Iraq stated. His initial posting was a local cell leader, but he rose through the ranks of al Qaeda in Iraq. He was later appointed as a “key operational leader responsible for orchestrating, as well as participating in, attacks conducted by his [al Qaeda in Iraq] foreign terrorist network throughout the city.” He became the emir of southeastern Mosul after his commander was captured by Task Force 88, the hunter-killer teams assigned to dismantling al Qaeda in Iraq’s network, on Feb. 18.
Yasir also had close links to the leaders of al Qaeda’s northern network and was said to be a close associate of Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s commander. Yasir facilitated, planned, and participated in improvised explosive device and small-arms attacks against US and Iraqi forces in Mosul. He was behind an attempted attack using a 5,000 pound truck bomb. Yasir’s cell disguised a truck with markings of a Red Crescent food relief vehicle, but US forces found and destroyed the vehicle before his could be used to kill civilians and security forces.
Hamdan was a close associate of Yasir, although it is not clear when he entered Iraq. He helped foreign terrorists enter Mosul and “led a regional anti-aircraft ring.”
Saudi Arabian nationals make up the largest element of the foreign al Qaeda fighters, according to al Qaeda documents seized by US forces and analyzed West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. Based on documentation found during the capture of Muthanna, al Qaeda’s emir along the Iraq/Syrian border who was responsible for facilitating the entry of foreign terrorists, 41 percent of foreign fighters were from Saudi Arabia. “Libyan nationals accounted for the second largest group entering Iraq in that time period with about 19 percent of the total, followed by Syrians and Yemenis each at 8 percent, Algerians with 7 percent and Moroccans at 6 percent,” Reuters reported.
Yasir and Hamdan’s deaths highlight al Qaeda’s Central Command’s commitment to Iraq. Yasir was deployed from Afghanistan to Iraq in August 2007, just when it became clear al Qaeda was encountering problems due to the massive offensive launched against the terror network in 2007. In late October, Osama bin Laden, the global leader of al Qaeda, lamented the terror group’s tactic situation. Bin Laden said “the darkness has become pitch black" for al Qaeda in Iraq, yet exhorted its leaders to change tactics and continue the fight.
US and Iraqi security force have increased the pressure on al Qaeda in Mosul. Multinational Forces Iraq said 142 al Qaeda leaders and operatives have been killed or captured in Mosul since January, when the Iraqi government said it would launch a decisive battle against the terror group. Al Qaeda’s leaders and fighters have migrated to Mosul after being ejected from its strongholds in Baghdad, Anbar, and Diyala provinces.
US and Iraqi security forces have conducted major sweeps against al Qaeda in Iraq cells in Mosul throughout January. The larger raids netted one al Qaeda fighter killed and 14 captured on Feb. 11, 21 captured on Feb. 13, 11 captured on Feb. 22, and 27 captured on Feb. 23.
But the sweeps and clearing operations are only the beginning. US and Iraqi security forces are using the same model as was used in Baghdad – establishing security outposts in the heart of the neighborhood throughout Mosul. At least 18 Combat Outposts, which are manned jointly by US and Iraqi forces, are being built in Mosul to prevent al Qaeda from reestablishing itself once the neighborhoods have been cleared.