Unmanned US strike aircraft killed five “militants” in an attack in Pakistan’s contested tribal agency of South Waziristan today. The strike is the first in South Waziristan since last year, and ends a long pause in strikes in Pakistan that began on Jan. 24.
The Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired three missiles at a Taliban compound in the village of Kaza Panga, which is about 10 miles west of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, Pakistani officials told AFP.
No senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported killed in the missile attack.
The target of the strike is unclear. The area is controlled by 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 a peace agreement with the Pakistani government.
In the past, 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 Predator strike on July 28, 2008.
Today’s strike is also the first in South Waziristan since Sept. 28, 2010. All but four of the strikes since then have occurred in North Waziristan. The other four strikes took place in Khyber.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is the first 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 were 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 73 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 65 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.]