Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS’ Frontline. Click to view.
A decisive Coalition strike against a high-level meeting of Taliban-linked insurgents on March 12 took place one and a half kilometers inside Pakistani territory, US military officials have confirmed to The Long War Journal. Several precision-guided munitions struck a compound owned by a senior member of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban splinter group that is based in the Pakistani tribal state of North Waziristan. The strike occurred shortly after multiple intelligence sources confirmed the presence of the group’s upper echelon inside the compound. Several other high-level Haqqani commanders, including Sirajjudin Haqqani, had planned to attend this meeting, intelligence sources confirmed.
At 9:40 PM local time, US officials declared the group posed an imminent threat to forces inside Afghanistan and the call to strike the compound was made. After the orders were given to launch a coordinated strike, fixed-wing and rotary-wing air support along with Predator surveillance and reconnaissance began scanning likely insurgent attack positions inside Afghanistan. US military officials confirmed no women or children had been seen in the targeted North Waziristan compound or in any structures near it over the last five days.
Nearly four hours later, a salvo of indirect fire targeting the compound hit its mark, completely obliterating the building and killing an unknown number of people inside of it. Several insurgents working sentry posts around the compound were observed by aerial surveillance leaving the area on foot. Initial intelligence reports on March 12 indicated three “high-level Haqqani network commanders” were killed and that “many” Chechen fighters also died in the blast.
The targeted strike inside Pakistani territory is the first public announcement by US military officials confirming the coordination of a cross-border attack. The attack is said to have occurred in the village of Lwara Mundi, a flashpoint for clashes between insurgents and security forces, according to AFP. Thousands of pro-Taliban insurgents, al Qaeda fighters, and tribal militias associated with the Taliban operate unhindered in the tribal states of western Pakistan, especially in their stronghold of North Waziristan. Previously, the Pakistan government has denied Coalition and NATO forces permission to conduct raids against targets inside Pakistani territory.
The attack on March 12 was quickly condemned by the Pakistani military, which claims the strike killed two Pakistani women and two children. Chief Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told reporters, “We have lodged a very strong protest with the coalition forces across the border.” The US military has refused to comment on these claims, but intelligence reports strongly indicate no females or children were present in or near the compound at the time of the strike. The Pakistani military has denied commenting if insurgents were among the dead found in the rubble of the compound.
One night prior to the strike, Long War Journal correspondent Phil Peterson witnessed US military officials call off a targeted strike following intelligence reports that women and children were inside a house occupied by a high-level insurgent commander. “I watched them pass on taking out some bad guys because they were in a compound with other people and there might also be collateral damage to the surrounding structures, possibly causing civilian deaths or injuries,” Phil recounted in an e-mail from Bagram Air Force Base. “The intel was solid; they knew who the guys were and where exactly they were in the compound but they passed to get them another time.”
In late January, senior al Qaeda commander Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a US missile strike in North Waziristan along with several Arab lieutenants. Al Libi was a top-tier al Qaeda leader and led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which merged with al Qaeda in November 2007. He attended a high-level meeting among insurgents at a compound in Azam Warsak village in North Waziristan, a key al Qaeda-controlled village since 2002. American al Qaeda representative, Adam Gadahn, also may have died in the same attack that killed al Libi, according to western sources who spoke to Pakistani news outlets.
Phil Peterson contributed to this report from Bagram, Afghanistan.