US Predators struck yet again in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies, killing four “militants” in North Waziristan today. The attack is the fourth in Pakistan’s tribal agencies in eight days, and the fourth since US commandos killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a raid in the city of Abbottabad.
Unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a van as it traveled in the Kharkamar area in North Waziristan, Pakistani officials told AFP. Four “militants” were killed in the strike, the officials said. Pakistani officials use the term “militants” to describe members of the Pakistani Taliban.
No senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror group leaders or operatives have been reported killed in the airstrike.
The Kharkamar area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as to operatives from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
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 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 fourth in May in Pakistan, and the fourth 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 strike today is also the sixth 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 20 of 25 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 85 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 71 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.