Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safehouse in North Waziristan


The US conducted another airstrike in Pakistan's tribal areas. The latest attack took place in a region of North Waziristan known to harbor a senior al Qaeda operative.

Five people were reported killed and four more were wounded after a Predator launched one or more Hellfire missiles into a Taliban compound in North Waziristan. The target of the attack was a compound run by Malik Gulab Khan in the Sokhel region just outside of Mir Ali, Geo News reported.

Al Qaeda operatives were reported to be in the area, but no senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed.

The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi. He has close links to both al Qaeda and the Taliban, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in January 2007. Kasha is an Iraqi national who operates in the Mir Ali region. He serves as the key link between al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council, and the Taliban.

His responsibilities have expanded to assisting in facilitating al Qaeda's external operations against the West, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October 2008.

Kasha commands two local Pakistani commanders, Imanullah and Haq Nawaz Dawar. These men administer al Qaeda's network in Mir Ali. Kasha has a working relationship and close communication with the Uzbek terror groups, including the Islamic Jihad Group run by Najimuddin al Uzbeki, who also operates out of North Waziristan.

The US has targeted Abu Kasha's network several times since the air campaign heated up in Pakistan's northwest. Abu Kasha was thought to have been killed in an attack in North Waziristan in October 2008, but Taliban fighters said he survived the strike and "is healthy and very much in his routine."

The last attack that targeted Abu Kasha's network took place on Feb. 23, 2009. Ten Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were killed after Predators targeted a compound run by a local named Khalil.

Second strike in 24 hours signals an end to a brief pause in attacks

Today's attack is the eleventh inside Pakistan this year and follows yesterday's strike against a Taliban convoy in South Waziristan. Eight were killed, including "foreigners," a term commonly used to describe al Qaeda operatives. The attack took place in Makeen, the hometown of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Yesterday's attack was the first since March 15, when US Predators pounded a Taliban taining camp in Bannu, a frontier region outside of Pakistan's tribal areas. Bannu borders the Taliban-controlled North and South Waziristan tribal areas to the east.

The latest attacks also coincided with the US Department of State's placing a bounty on the heads of two senior Pakistan-based Taliban leaders. Up to $5 million dollars has been offered "for information leading to the location and/or capture" of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud or Taliban and al Qaeda ally Sirajuddin Haqqani. Additionally, a $1 million bounty has been offered for information leading to the capture or conviction of al Qaeda propagandist and ideologue Abu Yahya al Libi.

Background on US strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban networks in northwestern Pakistan

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.

US intelligence believes that al Qaeda has reconstituted its external operations network in Pakistan's lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. This network is tasked with hitting targets in the West, India, and elsewhere. The US has struck at these external cells using unmanned Predator aircraft and other means in an effort to disrupt al Qaeda's external network and decapitate the leadership. The US has also targeted al Qaeda-linked Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan, particularly the notorious Haqqani Network.

As of last summer, al Qaeda and the Taliban operated 157 known training camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Al Qaeda has been training terrorists holding Western passports to conduct attacks, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Some of the camps are devoted to training the Taliban's military arm; some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan; some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups; some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West; some train the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army; and one serves as a training ground for the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other senior al Qaeda leaders.

There were 36 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan during 2008, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Twenty-nine of those attacks took place after Aug. 31. There were only 10 recorded strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined.

During 2008, the US strikes inside Pakistan's tribal areas killed five senior al Qaeda leaders. All of the leaders were involved in supporting al Qaeda's external operations directed at the West.

Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan in January 2008.

Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda's external operations chief, was killed in a strike in Bajaur in March 2008.

Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda's weapons of mass destruction chief, and several senior members of his staff were killed in a strike in South Waziristan in July 2008.

Khalid Habib, the leader of al Qaeda's paramilitary Shadow Army, was killed in a region controlled by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan in October 2008.

Abu Jihad al Masri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and member of al Qaeda's top council, was also killed in North Waziristan in October 2008.

In 2009, US strikes have killed two senior, long-time al Qaeda leaders. Osama al Kini and his senior aide, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, were killed in a New Year's Day strike in South Waziristan. Kini was al Qaeda operations chief in Pakistan. Both men were behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others.


US attacks inside Pakistan during 2009:

Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safehouse in North Waziristan
March 26, 2009
US airstrike kills 8 in Baitullah Mehsud's hometown
March 25, 2009
US launches second strike outside of Pakistan's tribal areas
March 15, 2009
US missile strike in Kurram agency kills 14
March 12, 2009
US airstrike kills 8 in South Waziristan
March 1, 2009
US airstrike in Pakistan's Kurram tribal agency kills 30
Feb. 16, 2009
US Predator strike in South Waziristan kills 25
Feb. 14, 2009
US strikes al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan
Jan. 23, 2009
US hits South Waziristan in second strike
Jan. 2, 2009
US kills 4 al Qaeda operatives in South Waziristan strike
Jan. 1, 2009


For a summary of US strikes inside Pakistan in 2008, see US strikes in 2 villages in South Waziristan.



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READER COMMENTS: "Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safehouse in North Waziristan"

Posted by Minnor at March 26, 2009 10:20 AM ET:

Main problem with pak is too big a army. Half that of indian size while population is a sixth. More army per population means army or isi is too powerful for any government of the poor nation.

Cut the army size, modernize, economise..

Posted by Marlin at March 26, 2009 10:36 AM ET:

There's a thoughtful article out this morning with some thoughts on remotely controlled missile strikes on Pakistan.

Pakistani officials are seeking to broaden the scope of the program to target extremists who have carried out attacks against Pakistanis, a move they say could win domestic support. The Obama administration is weighing the effectiveness of the program against the risk that its unpopularity weakens an important ally.

[...]

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani have quietly supported the attacks even though the strikes have stirred domestic unrest

[...]

The review is examining ways to reduce the time it takes between identifying a target and when the Predators fire -- now less than 45 minutes -- said a former CIA official.

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Plans New Drone Attacks in Pakistan

Posted by Bill Roggio at March 26, 2009 10:42 AM ET:

Marlin, the media keeps saying that the strikes against Baitullah are something new, but they aren't. I've documented this, sent letters to the NYT corrections desk, etc.

Unfortunately someone keeps telling the media this, and since they really don't track the strikes, they don't know any better.

See here:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2009/03/airstrikes_against_baitullah_m.asp

Posted by Minnor at March 26, 2009 11:20 AM ET:

Someone keeps telling that because "credit" issue, with imminent success in Pakistan. If said expanded now Obama gets the credit of success, otherwise Bush. Good to know the root.

Posted by Marlin at March 26, 2009 1:08 PM ET:

It seems to me that even though the remotely controlled missile strikes may have the quiet blessing of Zardari and Kayani, it is most often the Foreign Office which tries to gin up the populist outrage.

Pakistan Thursday reiterated that the drone attacks were counter-productive and not helpful in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

"Pakistan has taken up the issue very forcefully with the United States and conveyed the sentiments of Pakistan government and people to the US leadership, especially that these are counterproductive," Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told a weekly media briefing at the Foreign Office.

Geo TV: Pak urges US to review its drone attacks' policy

Posted by juscruzn at March 26, 2009 3:12 PM ET:

GOOD WORK TROOPS!!!

Posted by KnightHawk at March 26, 2009 4:35 PM ET:

Keep hitting them!

Posted by Neo at March 27, 2009 10:29 AM ET:

If the WJS article is correct, than the Pakistani military is cooperating on intelligence in at least some portion of these UAV raids. If they are cooperating than the US should make an effort to keep those that are cooperating happy. Even if considerable restrictions are placed on attacks by the Pakistani's it may eventually provide a primary avenue for further direct cooperation. Of course the Pakistani government has public opinion to keep satisfied. So far there doesn't seem to be much public backlash over this. I get the general sense that while much of the Pakistani populous is deeply uncomfortable with the US role in this, they feel that the Taliban has gone way to far in carrying out bloody and obscene attacks. I think we will find little direct support of the drone attacks from the populous, but there seems to be a sense of resignation about the whole affair.

The Pakistani military is very sensitive to public backlash. So far there seems to be very little over this. In fact today's Taliban massive bombing at a Mosque in Khyber will likely get a much deeper public reaction.