Questions over target of strike in Bajaur, who conducted it, and why. Zawahiri may have been a target.
Tribesmen gather near the bodies of those killed during a Pakistan army air strike in Chenagai in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, October 30, 2006. (Handout/Reuters). Click image to view.
As we reported just this morning, there were going to be questions about the air strikes in Chingai that targeted a local madrassa serving as an al Qaeda and Taliban training camp. Just hours after the strike, questions are arising about who actually conducted the strike, who was the target of the strike, how it was carried out, and why it occurred. Reports are emerging that the U.S. conducted the strike (as we predicted) and Ayman al-Zawahiri was the target.
Who was the target?
Alexis Debat reports Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, was indeed the target of the nighttime raid. He was not killed, but 2-5 senior al Qaeda were killed, “including the mastermind of the airliners plot in the U.K.” We presume this is Matiur Rehman.
Faqir Mohammed was present at the madrassa just 30 minutes prior to the strike. He survived, and addressed the crowd of mourners in Chingai as well as gave an interview with an NBC reporter on the scene. “We were peaceful, but the government attacked and killed our innocent people on orders from America,” Mohammed told the rally as dozens of militants surrounded him, brandishing semiautomatic weapons,” reports the Associated Press. We suspect Faqir Mohammed was a target of the raid, for reasons mentioned below.
How was the attack carried out?
Also Alexis Debat reports U.S. ‘drones’ – actually this would be Predator UAVs, conducted the strike, and not Pakistani helicopters. An American intelligence source informs us that the Pakistani Army does not possess the capabilities to conduct precision night strikes such as this attack. There are several possibilities here: it could have indeed been a Predator strike, or, more risky would be a strike by U.S. C-130 gunships or helicopters. Conducting manned strikes over Pakistani airspace has its risks, including that of a shoot down and follow on rescue mission. The Asia Time’s Syed Saleem Shahzad reports this was a ‘NATO airstrike” by “helicopter gunships,” however it is highly unlikely this strike occurred under the aegis of NATO. Look for signs of Task Force 145 having carried out this raid, with unmanned Predators firing Hellfire missiles, and possibily C-130 and helicopters following up.
Why did the strike occur?
The target selection and who carried out the strike certainly plays a big role in the motivations for the strike. There are 4 main reasons for hitting the Chingai madrassa.
1. Zawahiri or another High Value Target was present at the time, or a mix of senior al Qaeda leaders were believed to be there.
2. This was an attempt to abort the coming “Bajaur Accord.” A local political leader in Chingai said “This attack is very strange as we were told Sunday that the peace agreement would be signed today,” indicating the purposed was to disrupt the signing of the accord.
3. A combination of high value target and an attempt to disrupt the Bajaur accords.
4. Pakistan is attempting to show it is still relevant in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban. NATO commander General James Jones just left Pakistan, and Prince Charles is currently in country.
We’re going to rule reason 4 out, as Pakistan is more than willing to sign peace agreements with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the last few times it allowed raids of this nature (Damadola, Danda Saidgai) the Musharraf regime suffered serious political consequences and political unrest. The Pakistani and international press are already claiming this was a strike on a school and that dozens of children were killed.
Reason 1 – Zawahiri’s presence, could lead to either a Pakistani or U.S. strike. Pakistan might take that risk to ingratiate itself with the West. Reasons 2 and 3 all point to the U.S. led attack. Pakistan has no interest in disrupting these peace processes. All three of these options are plausible, and for the reasons mentioned above, we suspect this was a raid carried out by the U.S. hunter-killers of Task Force 145.
Note that option 2 – disrupting the Bajaur Accords, is a strictly U.S. option. Faqir Mohammed, a Taliban leader in the region, would have been instrumental in signing such an agreement, and he was very likely a target. If disrupting the Bajaur Accord was the motivation for the strike (and we can’t help thinking it was), then the U.S. leadership has deemed the peace accords to be a major threat to both the security situation in both Afghanistan and nuclear Pakistan.