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
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.