US Predator strike aircraft fired missiles at a compound and a vehicle in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, possibly killing four civilians.
Unmanned Predators or the heavily armed and deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at compound and a vehicle in the village of Ahmad Khel in the Mir Ali area in North Waziristan.
The Central Intelligence Agency, which directs and executes the Predator campaign in northwestern Pakistan, has sought to limit civilian casualties and has claimed that few civilians have been killed in the strikes – less than 20 in total as of December 2009. Information gathered by The Long War Journal shows, however, that 108 civilians and 1,606 Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terror group fighters have been killed in the campaign since 2006.
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda’s external operations network. Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area.
Since Sept. 8, a total of 16 Germans and two Britons have been reported killed in Predator strikes in the Mir Ali area. The Europeans were members of the Islamic Jihad Group, an al Qaeda affiliate based in the Mir Ali area. The IJU members are believed to be involved in a recently discovered al Qaeda plot that targeted several major European cities and was modeled after the terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
The US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill members involved in the European plot. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is the eighth US attack in Pakistan this month. On Nov. 1, a strike in Mir Ali, a large town in North Waziristan, killed six “militants.” Three strikes on Nov. 3 killed 13 terrorists, and a pair of strikes on Nov. 7 killed 14 more. The last attack, on Nov. 11, killed six Haqqani Network fighters as they returned from operations across the border in Khost province, Afghanistan.
The pace of the strikes since the beginning of September is unprecedented since the US began the air campaign in Pakistan in 2004. September’s record number of 21 strikes was followed by 16 strikes in October. The previous monthly 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 98 attacks inside Pakistan this year, which is more than double the number of strikes in Pakistan just two years earlier. A few months ago, the US exceeded last year’s strike total of 53 with a strike in Kurram in late August. In 2008, the US carried out a total of 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 98 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.]