US Predators strike in Datta Khel area in North Waziristan

The CIA launched yet another attack against terrorist targets in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, this time in the known al Qaeda haven of Datta Khel in North Waziristan.

The CIA-operated Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a moving vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, killing five "militants," according to reports from the region.

The exact target of the strike is unknown, and no senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed in the attack. No civilians have been reported killed. In order to minimize civilian casualties, the CIA has shifted to hitting vehicles believed to be carrying terrorist leaders and operatives.

The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the 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.

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, 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, and some of them have been targeted and killed there. A strike in Datta Khel 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, 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, which 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, a practice well-established in the country now.

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

The strike in North Waziristan is the fifth in Pakistan's tribal areas since March 11, and the fourth in three days.

The US has carried out six Predator strikes inside Pakistan's tribal areas this month. Four of the six strikes in March have hit targets in North Waziristan, and the other two took place in South Waziristan.

Three of the last nine strikes in Pakistan have taken place in Mullah Nazir's territory in South Waziristan, indicating a possible shift in focus from the tribal agency of North Waziristan, where the overwhelming majority of the strikes have occurred since January 2010.

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, Raymond Davis, who works for the CIA. Pakistan released Davis today after the US agreed to pay "blood money" to the families of the two Pakistanis killed.

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 14 of 17 strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan.

Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 80 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 69 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 IJG 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.]


READER COMMENTS: "US Predators strike in Datta Khel area in North Waziristan"

Posted by kp at March 16, 2011 10:10 AM ET:

5 killed and 3 missiles fired and just a few km from Monday's attack

And in other news: Pakistan is to launch an operation in North Waziristan

This has been slowly building over the weekend along with "CIA and ISI to come to an agreement" stories which I presume happened given the release of Davis (and perhaps new flow of ISI intel for attacks in NW).

The best Davis report was on the NPR showing little details so that "Pakistan is seen to win": "Davis was cleared on the murder charges but convicted on a charge of possession an illegal firearm. He was basically given a sentence of "time served" and then released." That nice wrapps everything up. Plus blood money of course. Nothing that a couple of million won't fix. Pakistan really is playing the Long Game. I wonder how much intel damage the capture of his phone with images and contacts cost the CIA in Pakistan in agents or revealed info?

Posted by kp at March 16, 2011 10:18 AM ET:

One more thing: Raymond Davis saga: Victims' families leave country say sources

It could be real ("you've won the US lottery ... you know the country you hate so much!") or could be another conspiracy theory.

The whole thing is theater is this Dawn article shows

Posted by D Owen at March 16, 2011 11:11 AM ET:

One would assume the Islamists read this website. One would also assume they feel if the intel on their locations can be eliminated they can prevent the continued annihilation of their cadre or we will leave soon or we will run out of missles.

The "Long War" has been going on since Charles Martel defeated Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi at the Battle of Tours in 732AD-Arguably that saved Europe for 600-700 years from Muslim invasions. Paradoxically, their apparent "safe refuge" in Pakistan is finally allowing us to destroy them from the middle up. Anyone with a management position must function in a manner that allows non-human intel to function. We will now never stop persuing them and we will not run out of missles. When we are finished the Islamists will again be back in the bottle for another 600-700 years.

Posted by JT at March 17, 2011 3:27 AM ET:

The link says 4. The article says 22. The Geo web site has one article that says 14, followed by another one that says 22.

Hopefully this was a high level meeting of al Qaeda and teh Taliban, with a very high level guy or two present.

Posted by JT at March 17, 2011 3:34 AM ET:

The March 17 drone strike was apparently in the middle of the day, which I believe is unusual. It also had a very high number of casualties (at least 22). Could be a game changer, just for the fact it occurred, not to mention the possibile targets.