US Predators killed five “militants” today in an area of North Waziristan known to shelter al Qaeda and allied terror groups seeking to attack the West.
Unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a “militant” vehicle in the town of Khaisor, which is near the town of Mir Ali. Three terrorists were reported killed in the first volley. The Predators then circled back and fired four more missiles at the vehicle as the Taliban attempted to recover the bodies. Two more were reported killed.
No senior al Qaeda, Taliban, or other terrorist leaders have been reported killed in today’s strike. But the nature of the strike, including the follow-up attack using four missiles, indicates that a wanted leader or a dangerous operative was the target of the attack.
US Predators have struck once before in Khaisor, on May 16, 2009. In that airstrike, which targeted a Taliban madrassa and a vehicle in the town, 25 Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are reported to have been killed and several more were wounded.
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. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area. Moreover, Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils.
Since Sept. 8, 2010, 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.
Over the past year, 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.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups 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. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is just the second this month. The last Predator strike in Pakistan took place on March 8, when the CIA killed five “militants” in South Waziristan.
The previous strike in South Waziristan, on Feb. 20, broke a 28-day-long pause in Predator attacks. A senior al Qaeda operative named Abu Zaid al Iraqi and several members of the Punjabi Taliban are thought to have been killed in the Feb. 20 airstrike.
Many analysts speculated that the long pause in strikes from Jan. 23 to Feb. 20 was related to the shooting deaths in Lahore on Jan. 27 of two Pakistanis by a US consular official who worked for the CIA. 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 recent 28-day 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].
February 2011 proved to be the slowest month for Predator strikes in a year, with three, since November 2009. The recent slowdown in attacks has occurred after the pace of the strikes picked up from the beginning of September 2010 until the third week in January 2011. September’s record number of 21 strikes was followed by 16 strikes in October, 14 in November, 12 in December, and 9 in January. 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 in 2010, seven were executed in South Waziristan, five were in Khyber, and one was in Kurram. That trend is holding true this year, with 12 of 14 strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 76 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. The campaign has been largely successful in focusing on terrorist targets and avoiding civilian casualties, as recently affirmed by the Pakistani military. [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.]