Updated to include new information on strikes and casualties.
Unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched attacks today in three separate areas of South Waziristan that are under Taliban control. Seven “Punjabi Taliban” terrorists, as well as Arabs, Uzbeks, and a Turk, are reported to be among those killed.
The first strike took place at a compound in Shalam Raghzai in the Wana area of South Waziristan, according to The New York Times. The second strike hit a “suspected militant compound” in Wacha Dana, just seven miles outside of Wana. The third strike hit a vehicle in the village of Darnashtra in the Shawal area.
Eighteen people have been reported killed in the three strikes. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed at this time, but a number of foreigners are said to be among those killed.
“Most of those killed in the drone strikes are said to be foreigners,” a Pakistani intelligence official told The New York Times. “Their nationalities are described to be Arabs, Uzbeks and at least one Turk.”
Seven “Punjabi Taliban” were said to have been killed in one of the strikes, according to Reuters. The term ‘Punjabi Taliban’ is used to describe al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists from Pakistani groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Many leaders and members of these terror groups are known to shelter in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Today’s strikes are the first since the June 2 strike that is thought to have killed Ilyas Kashmiri, who leads al Qaeda military forces in the region and is one of three members of al Qaeda’s external operations council, which is assigned to directing attacks against the US and Western allies. Kashmiri is one of the most hunted al Qaeda leaders in the Afghan-Pakistan border area. Ustadz Ahmed Farooq, the head of propaganda operations for al Qaeda in Pakistan, is also thought to be among those killed in the strike.
“Good Taliban” leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
Both the June 2 strike and today’s attacks took place in areas controlled by Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri tribal areas in South Waziristan. 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.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
The US has carried out four strikes this month. The US has also launched four strikes in South Waziristan since May 10, when the Predators killed four terrorists, including three “Arabs,” in the town of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan.
The US has carried out 11 Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas 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 US has carried out 32 strikes in Pakistan so far this year, 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. That trend is largely holding true this year, but an increasing number of strikes are taking place in South Waziristan. So far in 2011, 23 of the 32 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan; the other nine strikes have occurred in South Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 92 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 74 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.