The US carried out a Predator airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, killing 25 people in an area known to host terrorist training camps. The attack took place just one day after the top US military leader visited Islamabad in an attempt to patch up a troubled relationship between the two countries.
A pair of the unmanned US Predator strike aircraft, or the more deadly Reapers, fired four missiles at a compound in the village of Spinwan near Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Initial reports indicated that five terrorists were killed, Pakistani intelligence officials told Reuters. But officials later said 25 people were killed, including three women. “Foreigners” were also reported to have been killed.
The target of the strike was fighters under the command of North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Taliban fighters cordoned the attack site after the strike.
No senior al Qaeda, Taliban, or other terrorist leaders have been reported killed in today’s strike.
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.
Mir Ali also hosts at least three suicide training camps for the the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. A Fedayeen spokesman recently claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers have trained at three camps. One failed suicide bomber corroborated the Fedayeen spokesman’s statement, claiming that more than 350 suicide bombers trained at his camp.
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.
Just yesterday, during a visit to Islamabad, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes would continue and pressured Pakistan to launch an operation in North Waziristan. Mullen said that elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency have a “relationship” with the Haqqani Network, but he stopped short of accusing the ISI of supporting the Haqqanis.
Mullen’s statement angered Pakistani military leaders, who denied that they support the Haqqanis. Pakistan’s military and civilian government continue to call on the US to end the attacks, despite having privately approved the strikes since the program ramped up in July 2008.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is just the second in April in Pakistan, and the first since April 13. That strike took place in South Waziristan, and occurred just one day after the chief of the ISI visited Washington to discuss intelligence ties with the US.
Today’s strike is also the first in North Waziristan since the deadly March 17 strike in Datta Khel that killed more than 30 people, including 10 Taliban fighters and a senior lieutenant loyal to North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Pakistani officials, including General Pervaz Kayani, the top military commander, denounced the strike and claimed that everyone killed was a civilian attending a jirga, or council, to resolve a local mining dispute. But the Taliban were reported to have mediated the jirga.
During the month of March, the US carried out seven Predator strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. Five of the seven strikes in March hit targets in North Waziristan, and the other two took place in South Waziristan.
February 2011 proved to be the slowest month for Predator strikes, 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 17 of 21 strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 81 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.]