US Predators strike again along the Afghan-Pakistani border
US Predators struck yet again today in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, launching an airstrike in an area right along the border with Afghanistan that is used to stage attacks against US and Afghan forces.
Today's strike took place in the town of Ghulam Khan, when unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at a convoy of vehicle thought to belong to members of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. Eight Haqqani Network fighters were said to have been killed in the strike.
No senior al Qaeda or Haqqani network leaders have been reported killed in today's attack.
The Ghulam Khan area is in the sphere of influence of both Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network. The area is used by the Taliban and other terrorist groups for staging attacks on Coalition and Afghan forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Bahadar is the overall Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
The Haqqani Network is a Taliban group led by mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. The Haqqanis are closely allied to al Qaeda and to the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar. Siraj Haqqani is the leader of the Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban's top four commands; he sits on the Taliban's Quetta Shura; and he is also is a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis. The Haqqanis are based on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The US has targeted Siraj and other top-level Haqqani Network commanders since 2008. On Feb. 18, 2010, the US killed Mohammed Haqqani, another of the 12 sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, in an airstrike in Danda Darpa Khel just outside Miramshah. Mohammed served as a military commander for the Haqqani Network. Siraj is believed to be sheltering in the neighboring tribal agency of Kurram to avoid the Predators.
The Haqqani Network operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. The US military has heavily targeted the Haqqani Network's leadership in raids and airstrikes in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
The US has conducted 12 airstrikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies since the beginning of December. The two previous strikes, which both took place on Dec. 28., also hit targets in the Ghulam Khan area of North Waziristan. Those attacks targeted compounds and vehicles, reportedly killing 15 terrorists.
The pace of the strikes from the beginning of September 2010 has been 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 and 14 more in November. 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. The suicide bombing at COP Chapman killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer.
The US has carried out 117 attacks inside Pakistan in 2010, more than doubling the number of strikes in 2009. In late August 2010, the US exceeded 2009's strike total of 53 with a strike in Kurram. 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.]
In 2010 the strikes have been confined almost exclusively to North Waziristan, where the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and a host of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups are based. All but 13 of this year's 117 strikes have taken place North Waziristan. Of the 13 strikes that have occurred outside of North Waziristan, seven took place in South Waziristan, five occurred in Khyber, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 63 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks took place against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 57 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes targeted cells run by the Islamic Jihad Group, which have been plotting to conduct Mumbai-styled terror assaults in Europe. A Sept. 8 strike killed an IJU commander known as Qureshi, who specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.
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.]