The US carried out its second Predator airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies in five days, killing four “militants” in an attack in South Waziristan today. The attack took place in an area controlled by a Taliban leader who has admitted to also serving as a senior leader in al Qaeda.
Unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a vehicle in the town of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan.
“Two missiles were fired on a vehicle at about 4:15 pm (1115 GMT) and four militants were killed,” an unnamed Pakistani official told AFP. Four more “terrorists” were wounded in the strike, according to SAMAA. One official told The Associated Press that three “Arabs” were killed.
No senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror group leaders or operatives have been reported killed in the airstrike.
Today’s strike is the second in Angoor Adda since April 13, when Predators attacked and killed six Haqqani Network fighters in the town.
“Good Taliban” leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
The territory in which today’s strike occurred 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.
In the summer of 2009, the military signed a peace agreement with Nazir stipulating that he would not shelter al Qaeda or members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which were based in the Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan. The Pakistani government launched a military operation against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in October 2009, but left Nazir’s areas untouched. Nazir has continued to allow the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other terror groups safe haven in his tribal areas.
Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization.
“Al Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same,” Nazir said. “At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same…. This is wrong that I am anti-al Qaeda. I am part of al Qaeda.”
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 the 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.
Two other top al Qaeda leaders killed while in Nazir’s care were Osama al Kini (Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam), al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan; and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, one of al Kini’s senior aides. Both men were wanted by the US for their involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In another strike in Nazir’s territory, US Predators also killed Abu Hazwa Jawfi, who is said to have led Jundallah, a Pakistani terror group that is based in Karachi and maintains with close ties with al Qaeda.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is just the second in May in Pakistan, and the second since US Navy SEALs and CIA operatives raided Osama bin Laden’s safehouse in Abbottabad, far from Pakistan’s tribal areas, on the early morning of May 2. The first strike in May killed 13 “militants,” including “foreigners,” at a compound in Datta Khel in North Waziristan.
The strike today is also the fourth in Pakistan’s tribal areas 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 that 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. During the month of April, the US launched only two strikes, one in North Waziristan, and the other in South Waziristan.
The pace of the strikes tapered off in February 2011, which 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 22 strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 83 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 70 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.