US Predators fired missiles a Taliban compound and a vehicle today in the first recorded airstrike in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal agency.
The unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers attacked a home “and two trucks loaded with militants” in Khyber, Pakistan’s gateway to Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported.
Between five and 15 Taliban fighters were reported killed in the attack, which took place in the Tirah Valley. The target of the attack is not clear, and no senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders or operatives have been reported killed.
The attack is the first in Khyber since the first US airstrike was recorded in 2004. Most of the attacks have focused on North and South Waziristan. The 135 recorded strikes in Pakistan’s northwest are distributed as follows: 81 in North Waziristan, 43 in South Waziristan, three in Bajaur, two each in Kurram and Bannu, and one each in Arakzai and Khyber.
Khyber is a terrorist haven
Khyber has become a hub of Taliban and al Qaeda activity since the Pakistani military launched an operation in the Mehsud tribal areas in South Waziristan in October 2009. Taliban forces have relocated to the Bara and Jamrud regions, and the Tirah Valley in the Khyber [see LWJ report, “Taliban escape South Waziristan operation”].
Tariq Afridi, a powerful Taliban commander based in Darra Adam Khel, has taken control of Taliban operations in Khyber. The Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam, a local Taliban ally commanded by Mangal Bagh, have gained power in Khyber despite a series of Pakistani military operations that began in the summer of 2007 which were supposedly designed to relieve Taliban pressure on neighboring Peshawar. A total of five military offensives have failed to dislodge the terror groups.
Both the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Islam are known to operate bases and training camps in the Tirah Valley, as well as in Bara and Jamrud in Khyber. These safe havens enable these terror groups to launch attacks inside Pakistan as well across the border in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. In November 2008, the US military attacked Taliban forces in the Tirah Valley after they retreated across the border from Nangarhar in Afghanistan. US strike aircraft and artillery killed seven Taliban fighters during the hot pursuit.
The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; an estimated 70 percent of NATO’s supplies move through this strategic crossing point. The Taliban forced the Khyber Pass to be shut down seven times between September 2007 and April 2008 due to attacks.
US strikes in Pakistan, by the numbers
Today’s strikes make for the fifth reported inside Pakistan this month. The US is well on its way to exceeding last year’s strike total in Pakistan, and has matched the 2008 total. So far this year, the US has carried out 36 strikes in Pakistan; all but one of the strikes this year have taken place in North Waziristan. In 2009, the US carried out 53 strikes in Pakistan. [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