A Closer Look at the Chingai Airstrike in Bajaur, Pakistan


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.



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READER COMMENTS: "A Closer Look at the Chingai Airstrike in Bajaur, Pakistan"

Posted by Dom at October 30, 2006 3:36 PM ET:

Whoever conducted the strike, the momentum of the accommodations between Musharraf and the rogue territories has been disrupted. If Musharraf is so anxious to seek accommodations, how could he possibly have the stomach to order such a raid, the conduct of which probably required technology beyond the capabilities of the Pakistani forces anyway?

Dom.


Posted by Jimbo at October 30, 2006 3:39 PM ET:

My money is on TF 145 or whatever number they are using now.

Posted by C-Low at October 30, 2006 4:14 PM ET:

I wonder if this was a first combat use of the new Preadator-B (Reaper).

http://www.murdoconline.net/archives/003964.html

To flatten a Madrassa compound and KIA 80+ would mean either one or two of the new "Reaper"'s or like earlier in the year a whole wing of multiple preadators.

Posted by Cruiser at October 30, 2006 5:14 PM ET:

C-Low:

Perhaps it is. I must say that I doubted the idea of it being a Predator attack because I thought that they could only carry two Hellfires. That would have required three Predators (4-5 missiles) for this attack - all of them loitering near the target at the same time and all coordinating with each other over which drone will strike what. I just thought that was unlikely. But, if one drone can carry that much....

Perhaps what is happening here is that we are striking with Predator(s) and the Pakistanis are following up with helicopter exploitation (getting DNA and gathering other information). That would explain the fact that witnesses report hearing or seeing helicopters at each one of these strikes. It also may explain why the most important targets seem to narrowly escape (ISI giving them a heads up that Pakistani exploitation team has gotten word to conduct an operation at ___ (place) at ____ (time)).

Posted by Quasi at October 30, 2006 5:59 PM ET:

So if it was a night raid, why were so many there? Do madrassas typically hold night-classes? Do students live at the madrassas?

Anyways, how can you complain that your building was just an "innocent school" when al-Zawahiri, the #2 most wanted terrorist in the world, was just at your place (presumably by invitation)?

Posted by remoteman at October 30, 2006 6:54 PM ET:

Quasi:

Think of madrassas as wahabist boarding schools where terror indoctrination is a central facet of the curriculum. That's right, at Bajuaur Acadamy your son will not only get to memorize the koran, but he will also learn to hate infidels and kill them with automatic weapons or blow them up with explosives. Chemical weapons are an elective reserved for our brightest students.

I agree that this looks like a Reaper raid followed by Paki clean up teams. No sense putting TF 145 personnel anywhere close to that unless they were going to do a grab operation.

Posted by blert at October 30, 2006 8:57 PM ET:

For such a high value target even F-22 or B-2 could be involved.

At the low post: a UAV.

Working the high post: a single B-2 with JDAMs.

The UAV eyeballs the play -- the JDAMs are dialed in.

There is no way that Pakistan can track a B-2. Just one would be more than enough to snuff eighty bad guys.

The total 'time on target' effect makes one think of one heavy delivery platform.

Posted by Jake at October 30, 2006 9:39 PM ET:

You guys are the experts on this stuff, but for the those of us uninitiated who have recently read The Looming Tower and learned that "Taliban" MEANS "student", it doesn't seem surprising that a madrassa on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan would be in anyone's guns sites.

Posted by Nicholas at October 30, 2006 10:49 PM ET:

I suspect in the future, as Pakistan loses control over Taliban-infested areas of its territory, we're going to see more and more strikes like this. It's the only effective way to cause attrition amongst the terrorists training there before they head to Afghanistan or some other country to cause trouble.

Posted by Tommy at October 31, 2006 1:21 AM ET:

Damn, Zawahiri is like Houdini! This is the 6th or 7th known time in the last 5 years that he has escaped an attempt to kill or capture him. I hope US and Pakistan special forces comb the area in the next few days. My guess is we spooked in Bajur, Pakistan so he'll probably head to Kunar, Afghanistan for a bit. I heard that he goes back and forth frequently. Let's hope we bring his ass to justice very soon.

Posted by Tommy at October 31, 2006 1:24 AM ET:

That should say "spooked HIM".

Posted by bubba at October 31, 2006 8:24 AM ET:

I'm no expert on ordanance, but I have to agree with remoteman on his suspicion that JDAMS might be involved here. I have no idea how physically large the madrassa is, but I assume it is rather large as it is headed by a prominent figure in jihadi community.

Hellfires carry a shaped-charge warhead of less than twenty lbs. While it's shaped charge is of extraordinary effectiveness in defeating armor, concrete and the like, the casualty count of 100% there and the description of the building as being flattened suggests that a larger warhead has been utilized creating a massive shock front rather than the high-velocity jet, or jets, of metal of the sort produced by shaped charges.

It would take a lot of Hellfires to produce anything more than a swiss cheese effect on the interior walls of a substantial building complete with an interior courtyard of the type that I understand are typical of madrassas in the Frontier Provinces.

A B-2 or F-117 would make an excellent delivery platform in this South Asian scenario.

Of course, as I am not an explosives expert so this is all conjecture on my part.

Posted by Veritas at October 31, 2006 3:21 PM ET:

Quasi asked:

So if it was a night raid, why were so many there? Do madrassas typically hold night-classes? Do students live at the madrassas?

It was an early morning (5 am) raid; shortly before Muslim morning prayers.

Madrassas (the local word for "schools") do not hold night classes, but students (typically 10-15 years old) live on-premises and education is free (funded by private charity). Although Pakistan army denied any collateral damage in the strike, locals allege that some 80 children were killed.

Posted by Brad at October 31, 2006 4:08 PM ET:

I really hate to say it, but on the subject of children getting killed in the strike, nits do make lice.

Posted by Fellow Peacekeeper at November 1, 2006 10:03 AM ET:

How about a Hellfire with MAC (thermobaric) warhead? That'd square the catastrophic building damage and cas rate with predator as a launch platform.

Posted by bubba at November 1, 2006 1:07 PM ET:

Fellow Peacekeeper,

Although I've never read or heard about such a warhead being funded or developed for the Hellfire, it would certainly be technically possible.

The Marine Corp has just such a warhead for it's SHAW launcher. And the Soviets/Russians even developed a thermobaric RPG munition. So warhead size wouldn't seem to be a constraining engineering problem.

It is conceiveable that such a weapon might well be a black program.

But once again this is all conjecture.

Posted by Fellow Peacekeeper at November 1, 2006 11:06 PM ET:

Global Security website page : AGM-114N Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) Thermobaric Hellfire

Posted by bubba at November 2, 2006 2:27 PM ET:

Eureka, Fellow Peacekeeper! I think you have found it. My lack of access to access to Jane's for the last few years seems to be catching up to me.

This does beg the question as to whether we are entrusting the 114N to the Pakis so early in its procurement cycle though.

The Predator looks increasingly like the launch platform for this strike.

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