South Waziristan Taliban chieftain Haji Omar Khan.
A senior Taliban commander has been reported to have been killed in Sunday’s airstrike in South Waziristan.
Haji Omar Khan, a senior Taliban leader in South Waziristan who strong ties to Mullah Omar, is said to have been killed in the strike that is believed to have killed an estimated 16 to 20 people, including “foreigners.” Omar’s death has not been confirmed, and the Taliban have yet to release any statement acknowledging his death.
“The death toll has gone up to 16 as six more bodies have been recovered from the site,” Mawaz Khan, a local administration official in the Shakai region told AFP. “Senior Taliban commander Haji Omar died in the strike.”
The attack, carried out by US unmanned Predator aircraft, occurred in the Shakai region in South Waziristan on Oct. 26. Shakai is a stronghold of Haji Omar. The attack is said to have struck a compound run by Omar. Pakistani intelligence officials described it as a “facility.”
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on Omar’s death but said they were aware of the reports and are looking to confirm or deny.
The US has stepped up attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal areas this year in an attempt to disrupt al Qaeda’s network. US intelligence believes the next attack launched against the West will originate from Pakistan’s tribal areas, where al Qaeda operates 157 known training camps. The Pakistani government has protested the attacks.
There have been 25 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan in 2008, compared to 10 strikes during 2006 and 2007 combined. Eighteen of these attacks have occurred since Aug. 31.
A long-time Taliban leader
Omar was born in the town South Waziristan. Like many Taliban leaders, he earned his stripes by battling against the Soviet Red Army in Bagram and Kabul, Afghanistan during the 1980s. He was wounded several times but continued to return to the fight.
After the Soviets withdrawal, Omar left Afghanistan as the Afghan warlords battled for power. He returned after Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, took power in 1996.
Haji Omar forged close links with Mullah Omar while serving as one of his senior lieutenants. He lived in Kandahar and took an Afghan wife. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Omar fled to his base in South Waziristan. From there he carved out his enclave and worked to build the Pakistani Taliban as a formidable fighting force. His fighters cross the border to fight US and allied forces in Afghanistan.
Omar’s goal is the establishment of a Taliban Islamic sharia state in Pakistan’s tribal areas as well as in Afghanistan. To accomplish his goal in South Waziristan, Omar admitted his forces target and “slaughter” opposing tribal leaders which he labels as US spies.
“Yes, we treat all American allies as enemy,” he told the BBC in 2006. “We have caught many people who were trying to help the Americans, either directly or through Pakistan. We do not waste our bullets on them. We slaughter them.”
Omar has strong ties to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud as well as the powerful Haqqani family, which is run by Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani. He served as a member of a so-called tribal peace committee to negotiate peace accords with the Pakistani government from 2004 to 2006.
Haji Omar still maintains close links with Mullah Omar, and is also linked to al Qaeda. His tribal areas serve as a safe haven for al Qaeda leaders and fighters. His brother, Noor Islam Khan, is also a Taliban leader with close ties to Arab and Uzbek al Qaeda members. In an interview with the BBC in 2006, Omar denied he had links to “the Arabs.”
For more information on Haji Omar, see Meeting Pakistan’s Taliban chief, a report from the BBC in April 2006.