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.
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.