US hits Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, kills 8
Click to view slide show of commanders in the Haqqani Network. Pictured is a composite image of Siraj Haqqani.
The US has killed five terrorists while targeting the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network in an airstrike in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Unmanned US strike aircraft, the Predators or Reapers operating from secret bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, fired three missiles at "a fortress-like" Haqqani Network compound and a vehicle in the village of Dargi Mandi just outside the main town of Miramshah, a report at Dawn.
Five Haqqani Network fighters and three foreign fighters, a term used to describe al Qaeda members, were reported killed and several more were wounded, according to according to The New York Times. No senior leaders have been reported killed at this time. Haqqani Network fighters surrounded the compound after the attack.
The Miramshah region is controlled by the Haqqani Network, the Taliban group that is based in North Waziristan group and operates in eastern Afghanistan. Anti-Soviet mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani is the patriarch of the Haqqani Network, while his son Siraj is the military commander who runs the day-to-day operations.
The Haqqanis are closely allied to al Qaeda and the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar. The Haqqani family runs the Manba Ulom madrassa in the village of Danda Darpa Khel, a hub of activity for the terror group. The US has struck at targets in Danda Darpa Khel five times since Aug. 20, 2009, and seven times since September 2008.
The last US strike, on Feb. 18, took place in Danda Darpa Khel and targeted Siraj. Intelligence indicated Siraj was attending the funeral of Sheikh Mansour, an al Qaeda military commander who was killed in a US strike the day prior. Siraj escaped the attack, but his brother Mohammed, a military commander in the Haqqani Network, was killed.
Siraj is one of the most wanted Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in the Afghan-Pakistan region. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. He is the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, including suicide assaults in Kabul, and he is the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. Siraj serves as the leader of the Taliban's Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban's four regional commands [see LWJ report, "The Afghan Taliban's top leaders"].
Siraj is considered dangerous not only for his ties with the Afghan Taliban, but also because of his connections with al Qaeda's central leadership, which extend all the way to Osama bin Laden. On March 25, 2009, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.
Today's attack is the sixth this month and the seventeenth this year. All 17 of the strikes have taken place in North Waziristan. The US carried out 53 strikes in 2009 and 36 in 2008. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 - 2010.]
The US ramped up the airstrikes in Pakistan after an al Qaeda suicide bomber, aided by the Haqqani Network and Pakistani Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The Dec. 30, 2009, attack was carried out by a Jordanian al Qaeda operative and double agent at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan's Khost province. The al Qaeda suicide bomber lured CIA officials by claiming to have information that would lead to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command.
Since the Dec. 30 suicide attack, the US has been hunting Hakeemullah, who appeared with the Jordanian suicide bomber on a martyrdom tape that was released shortly after the attack. Hakeemullah was rumored to have died on three separate occasions after being targeted in a Jan. 14 strike. The Taliban have denied he is dead and have claimed that a tape confirming he is alive will be released soon. But more than a week has passed since the Taliban said Hakeemullah would release a tape.
Background on the recent strikes in 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.
The air campaign has had success over the past few 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. The status of Hakeemullah Mehsud is still unknown.
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. 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. And Abdul Basit Usman, an Abu Sayyaf operative with a $1 million US bounty for information leading to his capture, is rumored to have been killed in a strike on Jan. 14, although a Philippine military spokesman said Usman is likely still alive and in the Philippines.
In December 2009, the US killed Abdullah Said al Libi, the top commander of the Shadow Army; Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Shadow Army; 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:
• US hits Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, kills 8
Feb. 24, 2010
• US airstrikes target Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
Feb. 18, 2010
• Latest US airstrike kills 3 in North Waziristan
Feb. 17, 2010
• US strike kills 4 in North Waziristan
Feb. 15, 2010
• US strikes training camp in North Waziristan
Feb. 14, 2010
• Predators pound terrorist camp in North Waziristan
Feb. 2, 2010
• US airstrike targets Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
Jan. 29, 2010
• US airstrike in North Waziristan kills 6
Jan. 19, 2010
• Latest US airstrike in Pakistan kills 20
Jan. 17, 2010
• US strikes kill 11 in North Waziristan
Jan. 15, 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 17 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