US Predators again attacked terrorists operating in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, killing six more “militants.” The US has now launched six strikes in the tribal areas since the beginning of the month, putting an end to a slowdown in strikes that lasted three months.
The unmanned, CIA-operated Predators and Reapers fired a pair of missiles today at a vehicle in the village of Tappi in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan. Six “militants” were killed in the attack, local Pakistani officials told AFP.
No senior al Qaeda, Taliban, or other terrorist leaders have been reported killed in today’s strike.
The village of Tappi is a known haven for al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network. US Predators have struck in Tappi five other times since December 2008.
Tappi is located in the sphere of influence of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban group that is a favorite proxy of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services and is also closely allied to al Qaeda. The Haqqani Network shelters and supports al Qaeda, and launches attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces across the border.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, is a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis as well as the Taliban’s Quetta Shura. The US government has placed a $5 million bounty out for Siraj and has placed him on the list of specially designated global terrorists. Two of Siraj’s brothers, Nasirruddin and Badruddin, and his uncle, Khalil, have also been added to the US’ list of designated terrorists, for their activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as their support for al Qaeda.
In North Waziristan, the Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. In addition, the Haqqanis have established multiple training camps and safe houses used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives, as well as by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has refused to move against Siraj and the Haqqani Network, despite his support for al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. The Haqqanis are viewed by the Pakistani military as both a strategic asset against India and its prime conduit for influence in Afghanistan.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
The US appears to have revived its covert Predator campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas after several months of slow activity.
Today’s strike is the sixth in May in Pakistan, and the sixth 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, on May 6, killed 13 “militants,” including “foreigners,” at a compound in Datta Khel. The second, on May 10, killed four more terrorists, including three “Arabs,” in the town of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan. The third, on May 12, killed seven local and “foreign” fighters in Datta Khel. The fourth, on May 14, killed four militants in the Kharkamar area. The last strike, on May 16, killed 10 terrorists, including four “foreigners.”
The strike today is also the eighth 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. That slowdown in attacks 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 22 of 27 strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan; the other five strikes have taken place in South Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 87 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 73 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.