13 Taliban fighters killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan

The US killed 13 Taliban fighters in a pair of airstrikes in Baitullah Mehsud’s territory in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.

Unmanned US Predator strike aircraft struck a Taliban training camp in the village of Kotat Khel and a madrassa, or religious school, in the Mantoi region. The 13 Taliban fighters were killed at the Kotat Khel camp, according to reports. The madrassa in Mantoi was reported to have been empty.

A senior trainer of suicide bombers was reported to be among those killed in the Kotat Khel strike.

“The missiles hit an office of Mufti Noor Wali who was once in charge of training militants for suicide attacks,” a Pakistani intelligence official told Dawn.

Today’s strikes are the first since June 23, when US Predators killed a mid-level Taliban commander loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, then followed up with an attack on his funeral procession. The second strike on June 23 killed 83 Taliban fighters and civilians, according to reports. Along with Baitullah, Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior commander in Baitullah’s network, and Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a field commander in the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, were the targets of the June 23 strikes. The three Taliban leaders survived the attack.

One week earlier, the US launched a flurry of Predator strikes in South Waziristan that 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.

The Pakistani military has delayed the launching of the ground operation, and senior Taliban leaders are believed to have fled the region in anticipation of the attack. 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, who has ended his peace agreement with the government.

South Waziristan is a major focus of the US air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Of the 26 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 18 of them took place in South Waziristan. Baitullah Mehsud’s territory has been hit 10 times and Mullah Nazir’s areas have been hit eight times. Both Nazir and Baitullah host al Qaeda training camps and shelter senior leaders of the terror group.

The US is well on its way to exceeding 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:

13 Taliban fighters killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan

July 3, 2009

Scores of 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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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6 Comments

  • ArneFufkin says:

    I am hopeful that the relatively modest tempo of these Predator incursions is a result of intelligence driven parameters by commanders/operatives on the ground and not the meddling of Administration politicos or career foreign service suits in D.C.

  • Midnight says:

    I am hopeful that it is a result of both and a heavy dose of common sense settling in in D.C. I’ve been here long enough to know now that we suffer from a serious lack of.

  • Render says:

    Arne – I’ve asked the same question, my understanding from the answers I’ve gotten (and more importantly – not gotten) is all of the above. Intel driven with meddling. I’ve about come to the conclusion that the meddling is all but unavoidable in the modern era.
    ===
    Predators and not Reapers? Or both?
    Reapers carry a lot more throw weight…Speaking of which…
    Could any of these strikes be JSOW/JDAM lobbed over the border? Or are we still looking at small warhead stuff?
    How would the average Talib or Pakistani civilian know the difference between a Pakistani F-16 and a NATO allied F-16 flying at 15,000 feet?
    If the Pak air defence radars are working as advertised then they would know exactly when and where non-stealth Coalition aircraft (manned or unmanned) are operating within Pakistani air space – in theory.
    ===
    It still looks to me like we’re swinging the anvil to meet the hammer, but as long as the Talib/Al-Q remain in the middle – keep swinging for the fence.
    HOME RUNS
    WIN GAMES,
    R

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Midnight, I fully understand that this could be a language issue but your posts come across as a bit vague and cryptic yet insinuating some insider knowledge of conspiracies and betrayals. I hope you are more expansive in your commentary going forward, because you obviously have great interest in this operation and I am honestly interested in your take. Regards!

  • Rhyno327 says:

    Iam wondering the same thing as RENDER. Reapers carry more ordnance, but an F-16 flying at 35,000 ft. can lob a JDAM almost 20 miles. Maybe there is a need for heavy ordnance, since Hellfire missles do not have the destructive power to cover a wider area. Don’t want ANY of those guys getting away. As for US meddling, we are there and thats that. Why would we not act on good intel? Airstrikes should be ramped up if anything.

  • dude40000 says:

    What do you guys make of 16 Pak Generals being replaced:
    http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/12-swat+commanding+officer+gen+ijaz+replaced–bi-08
    Bill – Is this routine or more than meets the eye?

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