US strike kills 4 al Qaeda, 2 Taliban in South Waziristan

The US has conducted the first unmanned airstrike in the lawless tribal agency of South Waziristan since the Pakistani Army launched an offensive there in mid-October.

The strike, carried out by unmanned Predator or Reaper attack aircraft, hit a Taliban "hideout" in Tanga in the Ladha region in South Waziristan. Ladha is one of several Taliban strongholds that were the target of the Pakistani Army's offensive against the Mehsud branch of the Taliban in South Waziristan.

Four al Qaeda operatives and two Taliban fighters were killed in the attack, according to reports from the region. "Eyewitnesses said the toll could be mount," Geo News reported. It is not known if senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders were killed in the attack.

The Pakistani military denied that the US carried out an airstrike in Pakistan today, but US officials contacted by The Long War Journal confirmed the strike. The Pakistani military also denied that two other strikes carried out in October took place; these strikes were later confirmed, however.

"The Pakistani Army doesn't want US interference in their operation in South Waziristan," one offical told The Long War Journal. "Their [the Pakistanis' operation in South Waziristan] is winding down and they haven't achieved their goal: to kill or capture Hakeemullah Mehsud and Taliban's leadership, and they don't want to be one-upped by the US."

The Pakistani military has claimed that 594 Taliban fighters and 80 soldiers have been killed during the South Waziristan operation (five Taliban fighters and a soldier were reported killed today), which targeted Hakeemullah's forces in the Mehsud tribal areas. The military has ignored the Taliban under the leadership of Mullah Nazir as well as the Haqqanis and Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan.

Al Qaeda fighters are known to have harbored in the Ladha region in South Waziristan. The US has conducted seven airstrikes in Ladha since 2008, two of which have killed dangerous al Qaeda and Taliban commanders.

Khalid Habib, the former commander of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, al Qaeda's paramilitary forces in Pakistan's northwest and Afghanistan, was among six Taliban and al Qaeda operatives killed in an airstrike on a safe house in the village of Sam in the Ladha region of South Waziristan on Oct. 16, 2008.

Also, Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Movement of the Taliban, was killed in the Aug. 5 airstrike in Ladha.

Today's airstrike is the second in three days, and the first in South Waziristan since Sept. 30. Two Arab al Qaeda operatives from Saudi Arabia were among three terrorists reported killed in the Dec. 8 strike in North Waziristan.

So far this year, the US has carried out 48 airstrikes inside Pakistan. In all of 2008, 36 strikes were carried out. Since the US ramped up cross-border attacks in 2008, 14 al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed [see LWJ report, "US airstrikes alone cannot defeat al Qaeda"].

US airstrikes inside Pakistan have tapered off since September, which saw six attacks. There have been only two airstrikes in October, two in November, and two so far this December. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported killed in those attacks.

US strike kills 4 al Qaeda, 2 Taliban in South Waziristan
Dec. 10, 2009
US airstrike kills 3 in North Waziristan
Dec. 8, 2009
US airstrike kills 4 Taliban in North Waziristan
Nov. 18, 2009
US kills 4 in North Waziristan airstrike
Nov. 4, 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".


READER COMMENTS: "US strike kills 4 al Qaeda, 2 Taliban in South Waziristan"

Posted by Unique at December 10, 2009 4:45 PM ET:

Senior Al Qaeda member killed, possibly Abu Yahya al Libi or Mustafa Abu al Yazid

Posted by KaneKaizer at December 10, 2009 5:20 PM ET:

Considering CBS just reported that the target was neither bin Laden nor Zawahiri, I'd have to agree with Unique.

Posted by Bill Roggio at December 10, 2009 5:42 PM ET:

At the moment I don't have any more info than is out there.

Posted by Chris at December 10, 2009 6:39 PM ET:

Why are they highlighting that the killed was not OBL or Zawahiri?

Posted by Marlin at December 10, 2009 7:28 PM ET:

Here are some of the reasons why the name of the target won't be known for a while.

However, officials told Dozier they have to study the strike zone, and the behavior of the al Qaeda operatives left behind to see either if they hold a funeral for the suspected target or somehow move to replace him to be able to confirm the target's identity.

"We have to study the pattern of life for a couple days, and see if anyone steps forward to take the target's place," a counterterrorism official told Dozier. "Then we have an idea that we did get him. Normally we wait for the NSA to study the area for 24 to 36 hours after a strike like this. We don't have that information back yet."

This comment surprised me though. I didn't think targets were being hit with this kind of frequency.

One official pointed out they're taking a target out nearly every day, and the hard part is proving who they got, Dozier reports.

CBS News: Top Al Qaeda Official Believed Killed

Posted by AAndrew at December 10, 2009 8:30 PM ET:

Great news if true about an HVT being taken out. Look forward to the confirmation of identity, or better yet, identities.

Congrats to those who work hard to make these strikes happen.

Hopefully we'll see the pace of HVT eliminations pick up.

Posted by Neo at December 10, 2009 10:53 PM ET:

I don't see a Tunga in my data bases, but there is a Punga at 32.595 N, 69.773 E. This is up in the mountains about 6 km west of Ladha fort. Might be the same place.

Posted by David M at December 11, 2009 11:18 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/11/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by kp at December 11, 2009 1:32 PM ET:

CBS is now saying it's Abu Yahya al-Libi.

Media: Drone Killed Qaeda's No. 3"

For background

He was the last of the "Bagram Four" July 10 2005 escapees.

I see Threat Matrix has this too ...

Posted by Brian at December 11, 2009 2:51 PM ET:

I would think that Al Yazid was ranked higher than Abu Yahya al-Libi. Al Libi seemed like he was good at self-promotion - he used his prison break to build up his name.

It would also surprise me if a Libyan would rise to the top of AQ.

Posted by Unique at December 11, 2009 2:59 PM ET:

Sheikh Mansour al Shami

Posted by Meremortal at December 11, 2009 4:29 PM ET:

If Osama is dead (as I believe), we got Number 2. It's amazing that AQ has not been able to close off the intelligence leading to these strikes. This points to an outside source (enhanced listening technology for example) as opposed to a mole.

Posted by Brian at December 11, 2009 5:39 PM ET:

It seems like there is some confusion in the reporting on who was killed and when. MSNBC and ABC are indicating that the Somali was killed on in the Tuesday strike on the car. Whereas, I got the impression that the rumours regarding al Libi are arising out of the thursday strike.

Perhaps we got both. That would be consistent with the comment: "they're taking a target out nearly every day, and the hard part is proving who they got, Dozier reports"

Posted by don juice at December 11, 2009 9:08 PM ET:

exactly brian, same with me....this was tuesday assassination,thursday assassination is the question..did we also get the libyan too?

Posted by kp at December 12, 2009 1:09 AM ET:

NYT comes up with this too ... that mentions both but they don't think it was Al Libi in the second attack.

That said Al Somali doesn't seem like a high name recognition guy and "top 5" guy (perhaps he is and Al Libi is top 3" as one of the leakers commented.

But perhaps he's the external ops guy they've been looking for so he's high up in their minds (given other intel they have).