The US launched two new airstrikes in Pakistan’s Taliban controlled-tribal agency of North Waziristan, just one day after killing 11 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in a strike in the same region.
Unmanned US Predators and Reapers struck in the villages of Hamzoni and Datta Khel today, killing eight Taliban fighters.
In the first strike, the US aircraft fired five missiles at two vehicles transporting “militants” in the village of Hamzoni, Geo News reported. Five fighters were reported killed in the attack.
In the second strike, US aircraft fired two missiles at a compound in Datta Khel. Three terrorists were killed in the attack. At this time, no senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed in either attack.
Both strikes took place in regions administered by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani and Central Asian jihadi groups shelter in Bahadar’s tribal areas, and they also run training camps and safe houses in the region. The Pakistani military has indicated it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network, a deadly Taliban group that is closely allied with al Qaeda and is also based in North Waziristan.
The US has launched three airstrikes inside Pakistan in two days. Yesterday’s attack also took place in Datta Khel. Five missiles were fired on a compound, killing 11 terrorists, mostly “Arabs” according to reports.
After yesterday’s attack in Datta Khel, Arab fighters from al Qaeda were seen establishing a three-kilometer cordon around the attack site. The large number of Arabs seen around the site indicates that a high value target may have been present.
The Arab al Qaeda fighters establishing the cordon after yesterday’s strike in Datta Khel could be from the Black Guard, praetorians use to guard al Qaeda’s top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, or Sheikh Saeed al Masri. The Arabs also could be from the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, al Qaeda’s military force.
The two latest strikes put the March total at five. So far this year, the US has carried out 22 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. Numerous Taliban leaders have stated that he is still alive and in command. On March 15, Khalid Khawaja, a lawyer for terrorist groups in Pakistan and a former ISI officer, claimed that his associates met with Hakeemullah on March 9.
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:
March 17, 2010
March 16, 2010
March 10, 2010
March 8, 2010
Feb. 24, 2010
Feb. 18, 2010
Feb. 17, 2010
Feb. 15, 2010
Feb. 14, 2010
Feb. 2, 2010
Jan. 29, 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