Scores of Taliban killed in second US strike in South Waziristan


The US carried out its second Predator airstrike inside South Waziristan today. Unmanned Predator aircraft killed more than 65 Taliban fighters in a follow-on attack near the headquarters for Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

The Predator strike aircraft fired three Hellfire missiles as Taliban fighters gathered for a funeral of Khog Wali, a leader in Baitullah's army in South Waziristan who was among six Taliban fighters killed in the first US airstrike earlier today.

Commander Sangeen, a Taliban commander from Afghanistan, was reported to be among those killed in the strike at the funeral. Predators are said to have fired on Taliban vehicles as they attempted to leave the scene of the attack, Dawn reported.

The attack took place in the town of Makeen, a stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud, according to Geo News. The US has hit Taliban facilities in the Makeen region three times since June 14. The Pakistani Air Force has also launched several attacks in the region.

These attacks coincided with an important meeting between Baitullah and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders to discuss the military's operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Siraj Haqqani, Abu Yahya al Libi, Abdul Haq, and two senior deputies of Mullah Abdullah Zakir. The US appears to have targeted al Qaeda's senior leadership as it met with Baitullah.

Today's Predator strikes also take place as the Pakistani military is in the opening phase of its operation to destroy Baitullah's network in South Waziristan. The military has conducted air and artillery attacks to soften up Taliban positions and is moving ground troops forward while working to secure the main road in the tribal agency. Baitullah is rumored to have left South Waziristan and is said to be sheltering in Mir Ali in neighboring North Waziristan, under the care of Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar.

South Waziristan is a major focus of the US air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Of the 24 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 16 of them took place in South Waziristan. Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Nazir's areas have been hit eight times each this year. Both Nazir and Baitullah host al Qaeda training camps and shelter senior leaders of the terror group.

Today's two attacks are the fourth and fifth US air incursions inside Pakistan since June 14. The uptick in strikes indicates the US has re-launched its campaign against the training camps and the networks that host al Qaeda's external operations branch, the unit assigned to attack US and Western allies.

Prior to the June 14 Predator attack against Baitullah in his stronghold of Makeen, there had been a month-long lull since the US last targeted Taliban or al Qaeda leaders or camps in Pakistan. The US has been under pressure to halt the attacks due to civilian casualties. The Pakistani government denounces the attacks while it secretly supports the operations.

The US is set to exceed last year's total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan.

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Northwest Frontier Province, Punjab, 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. Last updated: April 24, 2009.

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 a member of al Qaeda's top council, was 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:

Seventeen Taliban killed in second US strike in South Waziristan
June 23, 2009
Six killed in US Predator attack in South Waziristan
June 23, 2009
US strikes target Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan
June 18, 2009
US kills five in South Waziristan strike
June 14, 2009
US strikes Taliban, al Qaeda in North Waziristan
May 16, 2009
US strikes again in South Waziristan
May 12, 2009
US strike targets Baitullah Mehsud territory in South Waziristan
May 9, 2009
US strike kills 10 Taliban in South Waziristan
April 29, 2009
US airstrike targets Taliban training camp in South Waziristan
April 19, 2009
US Predator kills four in South Waziristan strike
April 8, 2009
US strikes Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
April 4, 2009
US launches first strike in Arakzai tribal agency
April 1, 2009
Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safe house 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: "Scores of Taliban killed in second US strike in South Waziristan"

Posted by KaneKaizer at June 23, 2009 3:20 PM ET:

Do high ranking Taliban commanders often attend funerals? If this strike got Mehsud, it'd be a huge victory.

Posted by C. Jordan at June 23, 2009 3:59 PM ET:

How often are funerals struck? If they felt safe before, then they feel safe no longer.

Always seemed to be a point of weakness, the fact that they must bury their dead quickly with pomp.

Posted by Neo at June 23, 2009 6:30 PM ET:

If they have to either fight or move than they are more vulnerable to attack. We should get more opportunities than usual. Keep hitting them!

Posted by cerberus at June 23, 2009 6:41 PM ET:

Reuters stated 45 Taliban killed. More Pakistani intelligence exaggeration?

Posted by Marlin at June 23, 2009 6:56 PM ET:

Whoa! Today featured some serious attacks.

At least 50 people, including an important militant commander, were killed in a series of suspected US missile strikes in South Waziristan on Tuesday. (...)

Security officials said the drones fired missiles when Sangeen, an Afghan commander of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, was holding a meeting soon after the funeral of an associate of Baitullah Mehsud in Lataka area.

They said that apparently the drones remained in the air after the first strike as it also targeted some vehicles in which the militants were fleeing.

Dawn: Missile attacks kill 50 in South Waziristan

Posted by The Observer at June 23, 2009 7:35 PM ET:

If Rooters reports it, well, it must be right. If the Rooters reporting in the tribal areas are anything like the slanted reports and wholesale fabrications that appeared in their dispatches from Lebanon back in 2006, than the Pakistan claims don't seem so outrageous by comparison.

Posted by MZBH at June 24, 2009 12:09 AM ET:

Posted by cerberus
"Reuters stated 45 Taliban killed. More Pakistani intelligence exaggeration?"

The article from The News quotes militant (not military) sources suggesting 60 killed in the funeral strike and a total of 70-80 killed in both strikes.

Posted by cerberus at June 23, 2009 6:41 PM ET:

Reuters stated 45 Taliban killed. More Pakistani intelligence exaggeration?

Posted by MZBH at June 24, 2009 12:15 AM ET:

I am cautiously optimistic about US-Pakistani cooperation going forward after this strike.

A relative lack of strikes against Baitullah Mehsud was a common complaint during the Bush years. This also provided fuel for a plethora of conspiracy theories that the US was not targeting Mehsud or his network with any great consistency because ti secretly supported him against Pakistan.

This strike, and hopefully many more like it, should help put a dent in that particular theory, and perhaps start bridging the trust gap - between the two military establishments and the people.

Posted by BENGAL UNDER ATTACK at June 24, 2009 1:08 AM ET:

Bill,

Makeen seems like El Dorado.

You stated : "These attacks coincided with an important meeting between Baitullah and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders to discuss the military's operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Siraj Haqqani, Abu Yahya al Libi, Abdul Haq, and two senior deputies of Mullah Abdullah Zakir."

My question: I am unable to understand the role of Siraj Haqqani. He is the right hand of ISI. What does this mean? Is Siraj a Judas or is there more than meets the eye?


Posted by cerberus at June 24, 2009 1:50 AM ET:

Disregard last comment. Good news in the update. Thanks for the info.

Posted by remoteman at June 24, 2009 1:57 AM ET:

Well it is about time they did this. The funerals or even the burning car swarms, seem to be an ideal time to hit more of the bad guys. Glad that someone in the administration gave this the green light.

Posted by My2cents at June 24, 2009 4:43 AM ET:

Check the time stamps.

I think this is an update the earlier report that only claimed 6 dead and no additional strikes at the fleeing Taliban.

Posted by flyonthewall at June 24, 2009 7:26 AM ET:

Seems unusual to have no reports of innocents murdered or martyred in this attack on a funeral procession. Even without their presence or existence, how'd the "civilian casualties" get overlooked?

Posted by Lorenz Gude at June 24, 2009 8:19 AM ET:

Hmmm..it is almost like the US and Pakistani forces are really working together. If so, a welcome development!

Posted by jim2 at June 24, 2009 8:49 AM ET:

I found the report that follow-up strikes were made on fleeing vehicles to be instructive. It sounds to me as though many of the bad guys panicked. That is, by fleeing in cars, they broke cover and even got distance from the civvy crowd.

Posted by tbrucia at June 24, 2009 8:54 PM ET:

It can't hurt to remove 'bad actors' but if these folks have half a brain they have a decentralized organization in which the cells can regenerate new leaders are removed. 'Body counts' didn't win the Vietnam War... I suspect they won't win this one either.... (Sorry to be a wet blanket...)

Posted by Agent Moulder at June 25, 2009 2:27 AM ET:

If anyone is under the impression that all this is 'cause of change of heart of Pakistani establishment - do so at your own risk. There is more than what meets the eye...My guess is all this is becoz of the recent aid that has been doled out by us ...

Water doesn't remain hot round the clock --- it comes back to the its normal temperature

Posted by The Observer at June 25, 2009 8:14 AM ET:

That's okay. I'm satisfied with the wet blanket. Any chance we get to thin the jihadi herd is a net positive.

Posted by Rhyno327 at June 25, 2009 10:16 AM ET:

Well, all's fair in love and war, and I don't think its improper to hit a funeral. I have been waiting for this. After all, these cretins detonate bombs in crowded mosques. Why not return the favor? Good job, hit 'em again.

Posted by Gigantor at June 25, 2009 4:37 PM ET:

It helps to remove bad actors, this is true. But every time they are eliminated another one takes their place. This sounds like wack-a-mole except for the fact that we can assume the ones taking their places aren't as experienced, intelligent or savvy as the ones that came before.

Killing the higher-ups, in my opinion, will def. lead to a degradation of capability, performance and success.