US Predators carry out first strike in Khyber


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 protégé of Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda's top bomb maker and WMD chief, who was killed in a US airstrike in July 2008. Hussami was a senior member of al Qaeda's external operations network, and was on a council that advised the suicide bomber who carried out the attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. That attack killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The slain intelligence operatives had been involved in gathering intelligence for the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban leaders along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

In early April, Siraj Haqqani, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, said that the effectiveness of US airstrikes in killing senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders had "decreased 90 percent" since the suicide attack on Combat Outpost Chapman. While other factors may be involved in the decreased effectiveness in killing the top-tier leaders, an analysis of the data shows that only two top-tier commanders have been killed since Jan 1, 2010, but seven top-tier leaders were killed between Aug.1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2009. [See LWJ report, "Effectiveness of US strikes in Pakistan 'decreased 90 percent' since suicide strike on CIA - Siraj Haqqani," for more information.]

For the past few months, most US and Pakistani officials believed that Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, had been killed in a Jan. 14 strike in Pasalkot in North Waziristan. But recently, after four months of silence on the subject, the Taliban released two tapes to prove that Hakeemullah is alive. On the tapes, Hakeemullah said the Taliban will carry out attacks inside the US.

US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:

US Predators carry out first strike in Khyber
May 15, 2010
US pounds Taliban in pair of strikes in North Waziristan
May 11, 2010
US airstrike kills 10 'rebels' in North Waziristan
May 9, 2010
US airstrike kills 4 'militants' in North Waziristan
May 3, 2010
US strike kills 8 Taliban in North Waziristan
April 26, 2010
US airstrike kills 7 Taliban in North Waziristan
April 24, 2010
US strikes kill 6 in North Waziristan
April 16, 2010
US strike kills 4 in Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan
April 14, 2010
US strike kills 5 Taliban in North Waziristan
April 12, 2010
US strikes kill 6 in North Waziristan
March 30, 2010
US strike kills 4 in North Waziristan
March 27, 2010
US kills 6 in strike against Haqqani Network
March 23, 2010
US strike kills 4 in North Waziristan
March 21, 2010
US kills 8 terrorists in 2 new airstrikes in North Waziristan
March 17, 2010
US Predator strike in North Waziristan kills 11 Taliban, al Qaeda
March 16, 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 Predators carry out first strike in Khyber"

Posted by Marlin at May 15, 2010 2:13 PM ET:

The AP article referenced in Bill's post has to make the usual disclaimer: "The suspected strike in Khyber could fan fresh anger because it represented a widening of the covert program." I wonder how true that is when you read articles like this in the same Pakistani newspaper on the same day as the strike?

PESHAWAR: A deliberate show of flag by the militants in the suburbs of the provincial capital in recent days has panicked the local residents forcing many to shift to safer places.

[...]

He said residents of Adezai were against the Taliban and ready to face them, but the government was not extending support to them that had created unrest among the villagers.

"Most of the people are poor who have limited sources of income and are unable to purchase weapons to fight the well-armed militants," he said, demanding that the government should at least provide them with ammunition.

Dawn: Prying militants spread scare in Peshawar suburbs

Posted by KnightHawk at May 15, 2010 6:09 PM ET:

Nice; Also thanks for the updated charts.

Posted by FredP at May 16, 2010 12:25 AM ET:

Was this "The suspected strike in Khyber could fan fresh anger because it represented a widening of the covert program." from an editorial? I ask as the word could excludes it from being reporting. This sort of opinion based reporting is what makes this site so valuable. Someone somewhere said Bill deserves a Pulitzer...here here!

Regards The strike in Khyber I have just two words; nice start.

Posted by Lorenz Gude at May 16, 2010 6:08 AM ET:

Since the Times Square bomb attempt things seem to be less routine in Pakistan. I hope that we are seeing the Pakistanis increasingly lose patience with the 'militants' as the Iraqis have. I think the long term solution to the Long War is for Muslims to learn to tell the difference between a truly devout Muslim and and a murderous fanatic. They evidently have some difficulty with that. Well, everyone has their blindspots....

Posted by Marlin at May 16, 2010 3:21 PM ET:

I love how the Pakistani spokespersons always coordinate their stories. The 3 Stooges come to mind.

At least 13 militants were killed in Saturday's incident at Bazaar-Zakhakhel area of Khyber Agency. Officials gave three different causes for the deaths - a bomb explosion, drone attack and a clash between rival militant factions.

[...]

Khyber Agency Political Agent Shafirullah Khan said there were conflicting reports about a drone attack and a clash between the Taliban and the activists of Lashkar-i-Islam.

"The most credible report, however, is that a vehicle carrying militants was destroyed by a roadside explosive device," Mr Khan said.

Dawn: US strike in Khyber, possibly the first

Posted by KnightHawk at May 16, 2010 7:59 PM ET:

Somewhat related, why did the NYTimes just run a story outing our contract-intelligence "spy" assets deployed in Pakistan? Where is the outrage?

Posted by destab at May 17, 2010 8:33 AM ET:

Could they of found the Humvee stolen from a convoy in Khyber (Hakemullah has been photoed in it ). 5 -15 Militants would still be possible if you've seen how they attach themselves to vehicles in that part of the world.

A Predator pilots job must be satisfying on such days.