The US carried out its first three Predator strikes of 2011, again targeting Taliban, al Qaeda, and Haqqani Network fighters based in Pakistan’s enemy-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The first strike took place in the village of Mandi Khel, an area under the influence of the Haqqani Network. The unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at a compound and a house in the village, killing seven “militants.” The Predators circled back and fired two more missiles as Taliban fighters attempted to pull people from the rubble.
Four “foreigners,” a term used to describe Arab al Qaeda or Central Asian terrorists, are thought to be among those killed, Pakistani officials said, according to Dawn. The Taliban fighters are thought to have been under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
The second strike targeted a compound in the village of Ghoresti, according to Geo News. Four Taliban fighters were killed in the strike.
The third strike targeted a vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, killing four militants. Datta Khel is under the control of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and is a known hub for al Qaeda and various Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups.
No senior al Qaeda, Taliban, or Haqqani Network leaders have been reported killed in today’s strikes. But the presence of foreigners in the vicinity of Mandi Khel, and the second pass on the target during recovery operations, indicate that the US sought to kill a senior leader.
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
Today’s three strikes, on the first day of the New Year, indicate that the US does not intend to let up on executing the unmanned Predator attacks inside Pakistan.
The pace of the strikes from the beginning of September 2010 until the end of December 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, 14 in November, 12 in December. 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 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 – 2011.]
In 2010 the strikes were 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 the 117 strikes took place North Waziristan. Of the 13 strikes that 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 65 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 59 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 – 2011.]