The US struck yet again in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies, this time in South Waziristan.
Unmanned Predator or Reaper strike aircraft fired two missiles today at a known Taliban compound in the village of Zeba near Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. Four “militants” were reported killed in the airstrike.
The village of Zeba is under the control of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri tribal areas in South Waziristan. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state.
Nazir openly supports Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, however, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. Significantly, more senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Nazir’s tribal areas during the US air campaign than in those of any other Taliban leader in Pakistan. Nazir also shelters the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in violation of the peace agreement with the Pakistani government.
The US has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders in Nazir’s territories. One of the most senior al Qaeda leaders killed was Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, who is better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. Abu Khabab was killed along with four members of his staff in a July 28, 2008, Predator strike.
The US has carried out three strikes in South Waziristan this month. One strike, on Sept. 21, is thought to have killed Mullah Shamsullah, who served as the spokesman and second in command for Mullah Nazir.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
The pace of the strikes this month is unprecedented since the US began the air campaign in Pakistan in 2004. The 21 strikes this month is a record number. The previous high was 11 strikes in January 2010, after the Taliban and al Qaeda executed a successful suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman that targeted CIA personnel who were active in gathering intelligence for the Predator campaign in Pakistan. In the bombing at COP Chapman, seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed.
The US has carried out 75 attacks inside Pakistan this year, which is more than double the number of strikes in Pakistan just two years ago. The US exceeded last year’s strike total of 53 with a strike in Kurram late last month. In 2008, the US carried out 36 strikes inside Pakistan. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see LWJ Special Report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]
All but nine of this year’s 75 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan. Of the nine strikes that have occurred outside of North Waziristan, seven took place in South Waziristan, one occurred in Khyber, and one took place in Kurram.
The US campaign in northwestern Pakistan has targeted top al Qaeda leaders, al Qaeda’s external operations network, and Taliban leaders and fighters who threaten both the Afghan and Pakistani states as well as support al Qaeda’s external operations. [For a list of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in the US air campaign in Pakistan, see LWJ Special Report, Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]
The US killed Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s top financial official and emir in Afghanistan in Pakistan, in a strike on May 22. And his successor, Sheikh Fatah al Masri, who leads al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is thought to have been killed in a strike on Sept. 25.