US airstrike kills 15 in North Waziristan


A swarm of five US unmanned strike aircraft killed 15 Taliban fighters in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan.

The strike aircraft, likely the Predators or the newer, more deadly Reapers, conducted two strikes against Taliban fighters in the village of Mizar Madakhel near the Afghan border.

A volley of four missiles were fired at a Taliban compound in the first strike, killing eight terrorists, AFP reported. Three missiles were fired at Taliban vehicles used during the recovery of those killed in the first strike, killing four more. The Kuwaiti News Agency reported that 15 Taliban fighters were killed in both strikes, and that more than a dozen fighters were wounded, some seriously.

The compound is owned by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. The Pakistani military signed a peace agreement with Bahadar even though he continues to shelter al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and sends his forces to battle the US and NATO in Afghanistan.

No senior Taliban or al Qaeda fighters have been reported killed in the attack. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not disclose the target of the attack.

Today's airstrike is the second recorded attack in three days, and also is the second this month. The last attack, on March 8, killed five terrorists operating in a compound at a bazaar in Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan.

So far this year, the US has carried out 19 strikes in Pakistan; all of them have taken place in North Waziristan. In 2009, the US carried out 53 strikes in Pakistan; and in 2008, the US carried out 36 strikes in the country. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 - 2010.]

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.

Unmanned US Predator and Reaper strike aircraft have been pounding Taliban and al Qaeda hideouts in North Waziristan over the past several months in an effort to kill senior terror leaders and disrupt the networks that threaten Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the West. Since Dec. 8, 2009, the air campaign in Pakistan has killed four 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 several others - a top Pakistani Taliban leader, a member of al Qaeda's top council, and a wanted Philippine terrorist - is still unknown.

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 of leaders and operatives thought to have been killed in US strikes].

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; Haji Omar Khan, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan; Mohammed Haqqani, a military commander in the Haqqani Network; Sheikh Mansoor, an al Qaeda Shadow Army commander; and Qari Mohammad Zafar, a leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam. 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.

The status of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, is still unknown; the Taliban released a videotape of him on March 1 but it did not confirm he was alive. On March 1, a rumor surfaced that Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party and a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, was killed in a strike on Feb. 15. 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.


US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:

US airstrike kills 12 in North Waziristan
March 10, 2010
US airstrike in North Waziristan kills 5 Taliban fighters
March 8, 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



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READER COMMENTS: "US airstrike kills 15 in North Waziristan"

Posted by KaneKaizer at March 10, 2010 7:06 PM ET:

Always good news, excellent reporting Bill.

Posted by My2cents at March 11, 2010 2:55 AM ET:

Excellent. Hit the Taliban, then hit their rescuers. Now finish it up by hitting any Taliban that show up at the funerals.

Force them to abandon their wounded and dead.

Posted by Marlin at March 11, 2010 5:49 AM ET:

A little more information on the strike.

Sources said that the residential compound belonged to Hafiz Gul Bahadur who is closely linked with the Haqqani network.

Dawn: Drone attacks kill 14 in North Waziristan

Posted by William Dames at March 11, 2010 6:50 AM ET:

I like the fact that came back for a second strike. They seem to surround the compound after each strike particularly when a HVT has been hit. Keep hitting them

Posted by Nic at March 11, 2010 9:04 AM ET:

The use of five Predators is an interesting event. Why so many Predators for one target? Was the number of Taliban fighters so large that as many as ten Hellfire missiles would be needed? Was the possibility of an HVT being there so great that the military concentrated assets? Are the number of Predators/Reapers in theater so great that the military can now start flying them in squadrons? Is there a tactician out there in LWJ land that could answer any of these questions?

Posted by HLP at March 11, 2010 9:38 AM ET:

some reports suggest that Hafiz Gul Bahadur was killed in this attack.

http://sify.com/news/top-taliban-commander-hafiz-gul-bahadur-among-14-killed-in-us-drone-strike-news-international-kdlmEfchbdh.html

Posted by C. Jordan at March 11, 2010 9:40 AM ET:

Top Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur among 14 killed in US drone strike.

http://tinyurl.com/y9m6l7h

Posted by kp at March 11, 2010 1:06 PM ET:

@Nic: It's public knowledge that Predators/Reapers usually fly in flights of four. They can be deployed in smaller groups if needed or gather together for a larger attack. These attacks appear to use both Pakistan based drones and drones from the USAF AFPAK orbits.


You are assuming they're just Predators with two Hellfire each but the Repeaers can carry a lot more than this e.g. a typical Afghanistan RAF Reaper load is 4 Hellfire and 2 500lb PGM bombs. Depending upon target selection the US Reapers could be flying with SDBs (for bunker/cave missions) or regular 500lb bombs (less likely) or a bigger mix of Hellfire (more flexible). So they could be using similar tactics to distributed operations with a big weapons carrier and many targeters with some sort of mix in the flight.


With 5 drones in this case one could imagine perhaps 1 Reaper and 4 Predators but it could be more Reapers (they have longer endurance as well as carrying more hardware: both ordnance, imagining and SIGINT equipment) So there may have been up to two fights at this target with the other drones providing additional reconnaissance and SIGINT for pre- and poststrike evaluation.


Post-strike is when the most eyes are needed (search for Gorgons Stare) to keep track of the "squirters": people running out of the attack area or driving off in vehicles in all directions. They are the most difficult to keep track of with single drone attacks hence using a whole flight or more. They also need to do SIGINT (with DF perhaps) at this point. Do they come up on VHF/UHF radio for tactical coordination? Do they come up on HF (NVIS) to request support from another local base? Do they use cellphones? Do they use satellite phones? What chatter can be heard that gives a hint of who was hit and who wasn't? If they don't come up on radio that might also be a clue (keeping radio silence is a big clue too especially when you know you just hit a AQ/Taliban target). Another possibility is to inject false comms into the situation: if you've been monitoring their VHF/UHF frequencies you can use a native speaker to request info on that channel. That depends on how good their tactical OPSEC is but it might work post-strike when all hell has broken loose.


The double hit might come from lessons learned from previous strikes were we have near hit a HVT but only wounded him. In this case I suspect they're trying to use the "Taliban rescue team" to identify the wounded HVT (the first vehicles to move out of the area; the person with the most action around him; the guy with the biggest body guard or any other marker they can use) then to hit that group again. That puts that Taliban/AQ in an awkward position: tend to the wounded HVT or leave them and rely on "inshallah" until the drones have "left". That may be a long shot too. I can imagine leaving one or two long endurance drones (Reapers) at the site watching the cleanup and following them to the funeral(s) for either a possible hit or for more intel when you follow other people away from the funeral.


I'm sure we may learn more about this in 20 years or so.

Posted by TLA at March 11, 2010 11:14 PM ET:

Thank you KP, because I haven't been in the Army since the 90's and need acclimatising to these weapons. Thank you for such a concise post.

Posted by ArneFufkin at March 12, 2010 11:35 AM ET:

Excellent insights kp. The nuances of the drone operation are fascinating to me. Thanks.

Posted by anti*terror at March 13, 2010 12:11 AM ET:

Awsome post kp.now i need to do some research on some of those acronyms im not familiar with,but will be once im through reading the latest on the long war