US Predators kill 6 'militants' in North Waziristan strike


Unmanned US Predators struck yet again in Pakistan's lawless tribal agencies today, again in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Six "militants" were reported killed in the third strike in five days. The recent strikes mark an end to a pause in the Predator program that sparked much speculation as to the causes.

The latest strike took place in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. Unmanned US Predators, or the more deadly Reapers, fired several missiles at a compound and a car in the area, according to Dawn and The Associated Press.

At this time, no senior Taliban or al Qaeda fighters have been reported killed in the attack.

The target of the strike is also not known, but the Datta Khel area is known to host a plethora of al Qaeda and allied jihadist and Taliban groups.

The Datta Khel area is administered by the Taliban commander for North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadar. He provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.

Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, or al Qaeda's Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel.

Datta Khel serves as a command and control center for al Qaeda's top leaders. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders have been targeted and killed in Datta Khel. A strike on Dec. 17, 2009, targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army or Lashkar al Zil, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, were both killed in the attack.

But the most significant attack in Datta Khel took place on May 21, 2010; it resulted in the death of Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.

Yazid served as the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the wider Khorasan, a region that encompasses portions of Pakistan, Iran, and several Central Asian states. More importantly, Yazid was as al Qaeda's top financier, which put him in charge of the terror group's purse strings. He served on al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or top decision-making council. Yazid also was closely allied with the Taliban and advocated the program of embedding small al Qaeda teams with Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network, the other major Taliban group based there. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered "good Taliban" by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. Yet Bahadar, the Haqqanis, and other Taliban groups openly carry out attacks in Afghanistan.


The Predator strikes, by the numbers

Today's strike is the third in five days. A strike on Feb. 20 in South Waziristan was the first in Pakistan since Jan. 23, when the Predators pounded three different targets in North Waziristan. Many analysts speculated that the pause in strikes was related to the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by a US consular official in Lahore on Jan. 27. Pakistan has refused to release the American.

But a look at the Predator strike history shows that there have been several long pauses in time between the strikes. The most recent gap was not the longest since the US ramped up the program in August 2008 [see LWJ report, Analysis: Gap in Pakistan Predator strikes not unusual].

January 2011 proved to be the slowest month for Predator strikes in a year, with nine, and February is on track to be slower than January. The recent slowdown in attacks has occurred after the pace of the strikes from the beginning of September 2010 until the end of December picked up. September's record number of 21 strikes was followed by 16 strikes in October, 14 in November, and 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 double the number of strikes that occurred in 2009. By late August 2010, the US had 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 concentrated almost exclusively in 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 occurring outside of North Waziristan, seven were executed in South Waziristan, five were in Khyber, and one was in Kurram. That trend is holding true this year, with all seven strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan.

Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 75 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 67 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes have 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.]



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READER COMMENTS: "US Predators kill 6 'militants' in North Waziristan strike"

Posted by Philip at February 24, 2011 3:18 PM ET:

Bill,

The pause may have been due to Raymond Davis, but please remember the four alleged "spies" killed by the Taliban in North Waziristan about the time the pause began.

I caution your readers not to expect to hear of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri being killed by drones in Waziristan. They are not there. They are in Dir District much farther north. I challenge the media to prove or disprove my theory. But you can't go there. Pakistan would not let you. Osama is their ace in the hole. If you did go there, Lashkar al-Zil would kill you. We'll see where he falls...

Posted by Jimmy at February 25, 2011 12:45 AM ET:

Hi Philip,

You are absolutely correct! OBL, AAZ or MO will never be where the drone bombs land. They are too valuable for the Pakistanis. These lowly 'militants' that the drones are taking out are just a smokescreen, cannon fodder to fool the world about Pakistan's help in the GWOT.

Bill has rightly put the word 'militants' in single quotes!

Here is an intelligence article in a SouthAsian intelligence journal about how far the Pakistani state has gone down the Jihadi road. It would frighten even Hitler's Nazi Germany or Pol Pot's Cambodia!!

http://southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers44%5Cpaper4347.html

Posted by Grim at February 25, 2011 8:14 AM ET:

The Dir or Chitral districts are very plausible locations for UBL but I would not rule out North Waziristan altogether. I just wonder how UBL in his current age and potential health issues would do in the extreme climate of northern Pakistan. Then again we are dealing with disease carrying rodents that seem to survive anywhere. I would not be too surprised if he gets wacked just before 2014. That way our withdrawal from the region would be percieved as a victory. I find it hard to believe that we do not know where he is. Someone in the ISI definitely knows where he is. They should just collect the bounty on his head and fade off into the sunset.

Grim

Posted by JRP at February 25, 2011 12:11 PM ET:

Dir District . . . Is this a theory or just a guess. I too believe that Bin Ladin is out of harm's way, but there was something posted some months ago indicating that he just might be ensconced somewhere on or near the Karachi waterfront, and thus totally beyond anyone's reach except Pakistani ISI, which will keep him well protected. Therefore, I doubt very much anything will hasten his demise. He will live out his life in relative comfort and go by way of natural illness. The big question is how many further 9/11s he'll perpetrate upon the United States during the years left remaining to him. Our entire approach to his apprehension has been too little/too late going back to even before 9/11/2001. Neither Clinton, nor Bush, nor Obama has seen fit to approach this WoT all out, and that will be our undoing and defeat in the end. We simply lack the will power to defeat this one man and it leaves me very disappointed in my own country.

Posted by Tim at February 25, 2011 12:40 PM ET:

@Jimmy

Bang on! Pakistan can no longer be called a partner in the GWOT. It has already broken off relations with CIA and is now firmly in the China-Jihadi-Iran-N.Korea camp. The sooner we stop naked monetary and weapons aid the better, lest they backfire on our own people.

@Grim

"Someone in the ISI definitely knows where he is. They should just collect the bounty on his head and fade off into the sunset."

When Hitler was offered Czechoslovakia and Austria on a platter, he did not fade away into the sunset. He turned into an even bigger monster. Similarly, ISI is not in the game for money alone. It wants global power. It wants to be the torch-bearer for radical Islam throughout the Islamic world and South Asia. No amount of money or appeasement is going to stop them causing world wide damage. We need to understand their underhand designs and call their bluff. It is for this reason that handing them Afghanistan or putting pressure on India to compromise on Kashmir is absolutely suicidal for the world. Next they would ask for a Muslim dominated corner of New York!!