The US has killed 14 Taliban fighters in the latest airstrike in Pakistan’s lawless tribal agency of South Waziristan.
One or more Predator strike aircraft, or possibly the more advanced Reaper, targeted a Taliban training camp in the town of Zangikhel in the Kani Karam area of South Waziristan. Three or more Hellfire missiles are said to have been launched at the training camp. The camp was run by Umer Barqi, a local tribal leader.
Eight Taliban fighters were reported killed in the initial strike and four more died while being transported to the hospital, Geo News reported. Residents told Pajhwok Afghan News that 14 Taliban fighters were killed. Five more Taliban fighters were said to have been wounded.
There are no reports of senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders killed at this time; all of those killed are reported to have been “local Taliban.”
The strike took place just three miles south of the town of Ladha, where Taliban leaders say they have been meeting to discuss strategy to battle the military, which has attempted to blockade the region and has launched airstrikes against Taliban hideouts in an effort to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.
The Pakistani government asserted that the Taliban have been meeting in Ladha to decide who will replace Baitullah, who is thought to have been killed in the Aug. 5 strike by US Predators. Baitullah’s wife and several Taliban fighters were killed in the attack on his father-in-law’s compound. Interior Minister Rehman Malik subsequently claimed that Taliban commanders Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud killed each other during a shura meeting to decide on Baitullah’s heir.
But both Waliur and Hakeemullah have since confirmed they were alive and have spoken to the press. They denied that Baitullah had been killed and that a shura had been held to decide on his successor. They also denied any infighting in the group.
Second strike this month
Today’s attack in South Waziristan is only the second strike in August as well as the second since July 17. During the first 17 days of July, the US conducted seven airstrikes in Pakistan.
The US has shifted the focus of its covert air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas almost exclusively to targeting Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. Of the 33 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 24 have taken place in South Waziristan.
Baitullah Mehsud’s territory has been hit 16 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. Nine of the last 11 attacks have targeted Baitullah’s camps and safe houses.
The US is well on its way to exceeding last year’s total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan.
The Pakistani government and military have identified Baitullah as the number one enemy of the state. On June 20, the military announced it had launched an operation to defeat Baitullah and would move into South Waziristan in force.
But the military has refused to enter South Waziristan after peace agreements with Mullah Nazir and North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar broke down. The military has instead signaled it intends to conduct a punitive operation by cutting off the region and pounding Baitullah’s camps with air and artillery strikes [see LWJ report, South Waziristan offensive ‘punitive,’ not counterinsurgency].
The military has insisted that the agreements with Nazir and Bahadar are intact, but both Taliban leaders have recently attacked Pakistani security forces. Just yesterday Bahadar’s spokesman claimed that Taliban fighters killed 32 troops during an ambush in North Waziristan. The military claimed 11 Taliban fighters were killed during counterattacks.
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 also has 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 five 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’s 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:
Aug 11, 2009
Aug. 5, 2009
July 17, 2009
July 10, 2009
July 8, 2009
July 8, 2009
July 7, 2009
July 3, 2009
June 23, 2009
June 23, 2009
June 18, 2009
June 14, 2009
May 16, 2009
May 12, 2009
May 9, 2009
April 29, 2009
April 19, 2009
April 8, 2009
April 4, 2009
April 1, 2009
March 26, 2009
March 25, 2009
March 15, 2009
March 12, 2009
March 1, 2009
Feb. 16, 2009
Feb. 14, 2009
Jan. 23, 2009
Jan. 2, 2009
Jan. 1, 2009
For a summary of US strikes inside Pakistan in 2008, see US strikes in 2 villages in South Waziristan.