The US launched a barrage of missiles at a Taliban compound today and a vehicle during a pair of airstrikes in a known al Qaeda haven in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan.
In the first strike, Unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired 18 missiles at a compound and vehicles parked outside it in the Datta Khel region near the Afghan border. The compound was described as a “training camp” run by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Reports indicate the Taliban had set up tents in the compound.
Fourteen extremists were killed in the strike, according to AFP. Three more were wounded, and the death toll is expected to rise.
In the second strike, the unmanned US strike aircraft fired two missiles at a vehicle traveling in the Datta Khel region near the Afghan border. Seven Taliban fighters were reported killed.
No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed at this time. But the concentrated attack indicates a high value target may have been at the compound.
Datta Khel is a known al Qaeda hub
Today strikes make for the third in Datta Khel in three days. On May 9, US Predators fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Inzar Kala in Datta Khel, killing 10 “rebels,” including suspected al Qaeda operatives. “The compound became suspicious as it was being used by foreigners,” a Pakistani official said, referring to al Qaeda fighters.
Today’s airstrikes took place in a region administered by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani and Central Asian jihadist groups shelter in Bahadar’s tribal areas, and they also run training camps and safe houses in the region.
Datta Khel is a known hub for al Qaeda. The Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, al Qaeda’s military force, is based in the region. The US has struck targets in Datta Khel 14 times since 2004, which makes for more than 10 percent of the total of US airstrikes in Pakistan.
The US killed Abdullah Said al Libi, the leader of the Lashkar al Zil, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a senior commander, in a Dec. 17, 2009, strike in Datta Khel. The target of the attack was Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a senior leader on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network, a deadly Taliban group that is closely allied with al Qaeda. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
The US is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to take on the Taliban and al Qaeda directly in North Waziristan and the port city of Karachi since the recent failed attack in Times Square in New York City has been traced back to Waziristan. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American behind the plot, admitted to training with the Taliban in North Waziristan.
US strikes in Pakistan, by the numbers
Today’s strikes make for the third and fourth reported inside Pakistan this month, and the third in three days. The US is well on its way to exceeding last year’s strike total in Pakistan. So far this year, the US has carried out 35 strikes in Pakistan; all of the strikes this year 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.”]
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. [For more information, see LWJ report, “Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.”]
Most recently, on March 8, a US strike in a bazaar in Miramshah killed a top al Qaeda operative known as Sadam Hussein Al Hussami. Hussami was a prot