US airstrike hits Taliban camp in North Waziristan
The US killed at least 10 Taliban fighters in an airstrike earlier today on a Taliban camp in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Two missiles are reported to have hit "a sprawling compound which has been used as a religious school in the past," according to The Associated Press. A house and a madrassa, or religious school, were both leveled in the strike, Geo News reported.
The attack took place in the Pasalkot region in North Waziristan, an area close to the border with the neighboring tribal agency of South Waziristan, where the military is currently conducting an offensive against the Mehsud branch of the Taliban.
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was reported killed in the early morning strike in North Waziristan. His spokesman denied he was killed.
The US has ramped up the attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of December after a lull in strikes in October and November of 2009, when only four airstrikes were launched. Today's strike is the sixth this year and the seventh in 15 days. It is also the seventh strike since a suicide bomber killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer, in an attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province. The outpost was used to gather intelligence for strikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The suicide bomber who carried out that attack, Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al Balawi, appeared on a martyrdom videotape with Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. On the tape, Balawi claimed he carried out the suicide attack to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The pace of the strikes is unprecedented; the US has not conducted seven airstrikes in 15 days since the campaign in Pakistan began in 2004.
The US air war in Pakistan has clearly shifted from South Waziristan to North Waziristan. Since the Aug. 5 strike in South Waziristan that killed Baitullah, 21 of the 25 reported airstrikes have taken place in North Waziristan, while the other four were in South Waziristan.
The air campaign in Pakistan has killed five senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders over the past six weeks. The US has killed two senior al Qaeda leaders, a senior Taliban commander, and two senior al Qaeda operatives since Dec. 8, 2009.
Already this year, the US has killed Mansur al Shami, an al Qaeda ideologue and aide to al Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu Yazid; and Haji Omar Khan, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan. In December 2009, the US killed Abdullah Said al Libi, the top commander of the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army; Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Lashkar al Zil; and Saleh al Somali, the leader of al Qaeda's external network [see LWJ report, "Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 - 2010" for the full list].
The US air campaign in Pakistan has stirred controversy in both the US and in Pakistan. On Jan. 13, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking "the government to disclose the legal basis for its use of predator drones to conduct 'targeted killings' overseas." The Pakistani government has denounced the US air campaign in public while secretly providing support for the program.
• For up-to-date charts on the US campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 - 2010
US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:
• US airstrike hits Taliban camp in North Waziristan
Jan. 14, 2010
• US airstrike kills 4 Taliban fighters in North Waziristan
Jan. 9, 2010
• US airstrike kills 5 in North Waziristan
Jan. 8, 2010
• US kills 11 in latest North Waziristan strike
Jan. 6, 2010
• US airstrike kills 2 Taliban fighters in Mir Ali in Pakistan
Jan. 3, 2010
• US kills 3 Taliban in second strike in North Waziristan
Jan. 1, 2010