US airstrike targets al Qaeda in North Waziristan
US aircraft have struck at al Qaeda in Pakistan's lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Unmanned aircraft, likely Predators or Reapers, operated by the US targeted a compound run by al Qaeda operatives in the village of Spalaga in the Mir Ali region. Pakistani intelligence officials put the number killed at three. No senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror group leaders have been reported killed.
An airstrike on Sept. 7 in the Mir Ali region was thought to have killed Mustafa al Jaziri, a senior military commander for al Qaeda and a member of its military shura; and Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational commander of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), an al Qaeda-linked terror group that operates in Pakistan, Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan. US intelligence believes Mustafa was indeed killed in the attack, but Kashmiri later surfaced in an interview with the Asia Times.
The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an Iraqi national who is also known as Abu Akash. He has close links to the Taliban, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in January 2007. 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.
Today's attack is only the second this month, and the eighth since the beginning of September. Seven of the eight strikes have taken place in North Waziristan; three have targeted Abu Kasha's territories, and four have targeted the Haqqani Network.
The US has carried out 44 airstrikes inside Pakistan so far this year. In all of 2008, 36 strikes were carried out. Since the US ramped up cross-border attacks in 2008, 15 al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed [see LWJ report, "US airstrikes alone cannot defeat al Qaeda"].
The US is considering switching from a counterinsurgency-centric strategy aimed at defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan to a counterterrorism strategy targeting al Qaeda's network in Pakistan using unmanned airstrikes and covert operations by special operations commandos [see LWJ report, "Counterterrorism at the expense of counterinsurgency will doom Afghanistan and Pakistan: US officials"].
The attack takes place as the Pakistani military is on the offensive against Hakeemullah Mehsud's faction of the Taliban in South Waziristan. The Pakistani Army cut a deal with Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan and Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan. The military agreed to halt attacks against those Taliban factions and allow them to use the roads in exchange for a Taliban promise to allow military convoys to pass and maintain neutrality while the fighting is ongoing. It is unclear what the impact, if any, the airstrike will have on the Taliban's views on the peace agreements.
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 the summer of 2008, 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 unit 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. From 2004 through 2007, there were only 10 recorded strikes.
US attacks inside Pakistan during 2009:
• US airstrike targets al Qaeda in North Waziristan
Oct. 21, 2009
• US kills 4 in strike on Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
Oct. 14, 2009
• US strike kills Haqqani Network and foreign fighters in North Waziristan
Sept. 30, 2009
• US aircraft strike in North and South Waziristan
Sept. 29, 2009
• US airstrike targets Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
Sept. 24, 2009
• Two al Qaeda leaders reported killed in North Waziristan strike
Sept. 14, 2009
• 12 killed in second US strike in North Waziristan
Sept. 8, 2009
• Senior al Qaeda leaders reported killed in North Waziristan strike
Sept. 7, 2009
• US strikes Taliban compound in South Waziristan, 8 killed
Aug. 27, 2009
• US Predators target the Haqqanis in North Waziristan
Aug. 20, 2009
• US kills 14 in strike on Taliban training camp in South Waziristan
Aug. 11, 2009
• Baitullah Mehsud's wife killed in Predator attack
Aug. 5, 2009
• US Predator strikes in North Waziristan, kills 5
July 17, 2009
• US strikes Taliban communications center in South Waziristan
July 10, 2009
• US kills 25 Taliban in second Predator strike in South Waziristan
July 8, 2009
• US Predator strike on Taliban camp kills 8 in South Waziristan
July 8, 2009
• US Predator strike kills 14 Taliban in South Waziristan
July 7, 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 5 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".