US Predators kill 10 'militants' in Mir Ali


US Predators struck yet again in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, killing 10 more "militants." The US has launched five strikes in the tribal areas since al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden was killed during a covert US raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, far from the tribal areas.

The unmanned, CIA-operated Predators and Reapers fired several missiles today at a compound in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. Four "militants" were killed in the attack, and the compound was destroyed, local Pakistani intelligence officials told AFP. Just minutes later, the unmanned strike aircraft hit a vehicle in Mir Ali, killing six more terrorists.

Four "foreigners" were later reported to have been killed in the strike on the compound, The News reported. Pakistani officials use the term foreigners to describe al Qaeda and non-Pakistani terror groups from South and Central Asia.

No senior al Qaeda, Taliban, or other terrorist leaders have been reported killed in today's strike.

Mir Ali is a terrorist haven

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.

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 fifth in May in Pakistan, and the fifth 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 last strike, on May 14, killed four militants in the Kharkamar area.

The strike today is also the seventh 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 21 of 26 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 86 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 72 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.



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READER COMMENTS: "US Predators kill 10 'militants' in Mir Ali"

Posted by David at May 16, 2011 1:08 PM ET:

@Bill -- Who is reporting for us the number of militants killed? Is it the ISI, or is it CIA assets on the ground? Your wording suggests you trust these sources, does that mean that they are not Pakistani? Or are there Pakistani sources we do trust?

Posted by Matt N at May 16, 2011 2:20 PM ET:

These drones seem to be coming at a faster pace since the UBL raid.

Posted by JayR at May 16, 2011 3:32 PM ET:

If the Predator stikes are so good, why don't we use them in areas where our troops are making "contact with Taliban operatives. It would be a good way to impact their forces once they want to break contact. That would begin to wear on them getting hit once they figured the fighting was over...

Posted by kp at May 16, 2011 3:48 PM ET:

@David: The newspaper reports liked to in the story. They are usually local Pakistani intelligence officers (they could be ISI or IB, it's never made clear) or sometimes other locals. They are never from the CIA. They don't tell anyone who they hit (or why) directly. The executive branch of the US government might make comments along with others who may chatter but it's never attributable. Bill might say more (or less!) about that.

The other thing to note is the wording in the reports from Pakistan. "Militants" are Pakistani and associated with Pakistani groups ("Taliban", TTP, LeJ, etc). Not sure if they consider all Pashtuns in the groups i.e. if Afghans are considered militants. "Foreign fighters" are foreigners and are one of the non-Pakistani groups (AQ, IMU, etc).

Bill said:

The US has launched five strikes in the tribal areas since al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden was killed during a covert US raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, far from the tribal areas."
Quite a few people have been commenting that this is all due to "actionable intel" gained from the UBL raid. I doubt it.

I suspect some of the pacing of US attacks has been modulated based on amount of intel we gret from the Pakistanis. But most importantly it was reuced to avoid annoying the Pakistanis too much when at the highest levels we thought we had UBL in our sights but were going to need more time to make sure and execute an attack on his (potential) compound. The Davis affair and the hit on the March 17 "jirga"(or the Taliban meeting or whatever it was) looked like they might upset the apple-cart. In retrospect they were played rather coolly waiting for the chance for the "big prize".

The post-UBL raid uptick in tempo has a lot more about showing the Pakistanis that we intend to keep hitting targets we find in FATA regardless of their bluster. I really suspect this is US intel driving these targets. The other possibility is we sweeten the pot with ISI-derived intel and hit "bad Taliban" that the Pakistani government want killed and we want killed too. Nothing like the Pakistani government playing a double game: public criticism and private intel for targeting "undesirables".

The previous attack (in South Waziristan?) seemed to be, from later newspaper reports, on the Haqqani network fighters after they had come across the border (and I presume to a safe house or picked up a commander). Not the bad Taliban so I presume this was one of "our own" attacks.

Even the UBL raid itself has sent a message to the Pakistanis. Not just that they didn't see our choppers: stealthy, low-level flight would make that less of a worry. They didn't see the drone(s) we had overhead of UBLs compound that was sending video back to the CIA and the White House. Clearly the US has stealth drones in operation over Pakistan (the RQ-170 "the Beast of Kandahar" and perhaps others that are not known yet). Perhaps they even carry arms (the RQ-170 is nominally a reconnaissance drone). We might be flying a mix of very radar visible Predator/Reaper drones and invisible RQ-170. Doing that would reduce the chance of tip-offs from the Pakistani air force to HVTs. And an example if the Pakistanis did get belligerent about shooting down drones that we can still operate drones in their airspace unobserved. The message would be quite clear to the Pakistani air force when they see a ground attack without any apparent drone(s) over the target.

So, for now at least. the Pakistanis continue to play a double rather than a single game.

Posted by don owen at May 16, 2011 3:59 PM ET:

Hopefully we are privately telling Pakistan/ Taliban that the drone attacks will never stop- we can sustain these forever. After we leave Afganistan and do not need any supply lines through Pakistan- their threats are useless. Old muslim men do not fear sending an endless supply of young men/ women or even children to blow themselves up- they will only come to the bargining table when we have killed enough of "old boys" and demonstate the ability and desire to continue the process.

Posted by andrew at May 16, 2011 8:00 PM ET:

i'm not sure if 'pounding sand' (George W. Bush term) in Afghanistan + FATA/Pakistan will equate to the defeat of the Taliban (TTP, Haqqani Network, LeJ, etc)

we need a more robust, well rounded, SIGINT/HUMINT driven strategy [i]combined[/i] with combating the rife corruption within the Afghan government. Because the way I personally see it, we are supporting Afghan gangsters running the country. The Afghan people are currently hedging their bets on the Taliban, and the more we hit mid/low level Taliban, conduct kill/capture raids in remote villages based on shoddy intel, and do nothing to protect the civilian population, we risk alienating the Afghan people, village after village.

Posted by JT at May 17, 2011 12:01 AM ET:

Andrew

Not sure where you are hearing/reading about raids in remote villages based on shoddy intel. What I read says that the counter-insurgency with the extra "surge" troops to remain in areas to provide security is working much like it did in Iraq. I suppose it is all in whether you see intel failures or "cutting and running" as the norm or the exception.

Much of what you say seems to apply for Pakistan but not to Afghanistan. At least as long as the ISAF troops stick around. If the promises made to the Afghans are broken and we bail, we'll be starting again at less than square one later on.

Posted by BullsEye at May 17, 2011 6:07 AM ET:

Agreed - wipe out the older, wiser generation of militant leaders in their entirety.

Posted by BrontosaurusRex at May 17, 2011 8:52 PM ET:

Good job Bill, you got quoted on CNN.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/pakistan.us.drones/index.html?hpt=Sbin

Posted by kp at May 19, 2011 9:53 PM ET:

"One of those killed was the son of al-Qaeda operative Abu Kashif, according to intelligence officials."

http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/17/daily_brief_nato_chopper_attacks_pakistani_army_post

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/16/us-binladen-idUSTRE7410D320110516