US Predator strike kills 15 'militants' in South and North Waziristan
Updated to include information on the second strike in North Waziristan.
US Predators struck again in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of South and North Waziristan today, killing 15 "militants," according to reports from the region.
The first strike took place near Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. The unmanned Predators or Reapers fired missiles at a compound and a vehicle in the area. Seven Taliban fighters loyal to Mullah Nazir were reported killed at the compound, and three more were killed in the vehicle.
In the second strike, Predators fired four missiles at a vehicle in the Miranshah area of North Waziristan, an area under the control of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. Five more "militants" were killed in the attack.
The exact targets of the strikes are unclear; Nazir and the Haqqanis are known to shelter senior and mid-level Taliban leaders in their tribal areas. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed in the strike.
The US has shifted its focus from the Taliban-held and al Qaeda-infested tribal agency of North Waziristan to South Waziristan over the past month. Six of the eight strikes since June 1 have taken place in South Waziristan.
Nazir's followers have threatened to step up attacks against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan to retaliate for the increase in Predator strikes. On June 8, two of Nazir's top commanders vowed to take such action.
"Because the United States is launching these strikes we will send more fighters to Afghanistan and step up our operations against US forces," Maulvi Younus, a senior Taliban commander and spokesman for Mullah Nazir, told Reuters. "We have no other option. We have no weapons which shoot them (drone aircraft) down so we will fight the United States in Afghanistan."
"We have lots of mujahideen (holy warriors)," Qari Yousaf, one of Nazir's aides, told Reuters. "It is not a problem. If drone strikes continue we believe many tribesmen will join us because they (drone strikes) are killing ordinary people. Our shura will decide on the appropriate time to send more fighters and how many will go."
"Good Taliban" leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
Today's attack in South Waziristan took place in areas controlled by Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri 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."
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.
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 close ties with al Qaeda.
Also, Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of al Qaeda's Lashkar-al-Zil, or Shadow Army, is reported to have been killed in a June 3 Predator strike in Nazir's tribal areas. Kashmiri's death has not been confirmed, however.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today's strikes in South and North Waziristan are the first since June 8, when the Predators hit targets in both North and South Waziristan. More than 20 people, including "foreign and militants from Pakistan's central Punjab province" were killed during the strike in Shawal, South Waziristan. The term "foreigners" is used to describe members of al Qaeda and other terror groups from outside Pakistan that are allied with al Qaeda. Punjabi "militants" belong to terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami.
So far this year, the US has carried out 36 strikes in Pakistan, and is well off the pace of the 2010 total of 117 attacks. In 2010, the US more than doubled the number of strikes that had 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. This year, an increasing number of strikes are taking place in South Waziristan. So far in 2011, 25 of the 36 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan; the other 11 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 96 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 76 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.