Unmanned US strike aircraft killed six Islamist extremists in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The strike took place in the Datta Khel region in North Waziristan, a region that hosts a headquarters for al Qaeda’s Shadow Army.
“Two missiles fired by a US drone hit a compound which was being used by militants,” a senior Pakistani security official told Dawn. “One missile hit a compound and the other hit a vehicle outside it. Six militants were killed.”
At this time, no senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported 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 10th this year and the 11th in 20 days. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]
The pace of the strikes is unprecedented. The US carried out the most strikes in Pakistan in Oct. 2008; 10 attacks were carried out that month. Already this month, the US has matched that record, with 11 days left in the month.
Datta Khel is a hub of al Qaeda activity
The Datta Khel region in North Waziristan is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied Central Asian jihadi groups. The US has conducted multiple strikes in the Datta Khel region since January 2008, which is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network. The latest strike in Datta Khel, on Jan. 6, killed 17 terrorists, including two “foreigners,” a term used for Arab al Qaeda members.
A strike on Dec. 17, 2009 targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army or Lashkar al Zil, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, were both killed in the attack.
Datta Khel borders the Jani Khel region in the settled district of Bannu. The Jani Khel region has long been a strategic meeting place and safe haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Jani Khel was identified as the headquarters for al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis back in 2007. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, has operated in the Jani Khel region. The US has struck al Qaeda safe houses in Jani Khel twice since last year. These strikes are the only two Predator attacks that have occurred outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The town of Jani Khel is a known haven for al Qaeda leaders and fighters. Senior al Qaeda operative Abdullah Azzam al Saudi was killed in a Predator strike in Jani Khel on Nov. 19, 2008. Azzam served as a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in Pakistan’s northwest.
Al Qaeda is known to have deposited its donations received from Europe into the Bayt al Mal, or Bank of Money, in Jani Khel, according to a report at the NEFA Foundation. The Bayt al Mal served as al Qaeda’s treasury.
Background on the recent strikes in Pakistan
The US air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas has been stepped up since Hakeemullah aided the Dec. 30, 2009, suicide attack by a Jordanian al Qaeda operative at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province. The bomber killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer. Hakeemullah appeared on a martyrdom tape with the suicide bomber that was released shortly after the attack.
The US is actively hunting Hakeemullah, intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.
The air campaign has had success over the past two months. Since Dec. 8, 2009, the air campaign in Pakistan has killed two senior al Qaeda leaders, a senior Taliban commander, two senior al Qaeda operatives, and a wanted Palestinian terrorist who was allied with al Qaeda.
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. Also, Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, the Abu Nidal Organization operative who participated in killing 22 hostages during the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am flight 73, is thought to have been killed in the Jan. 9 airstrike.
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].
US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:
Jan. 19, 2010
Jan. 17, 2010
Jan. 15, 2010
Jan. 14, 2010
Jan. 9, 2010
Jan. 8, 2010
Jan. 6, 2010
Jan. 3, 2010
Jan. 1, 2010