US Predators kill 12 'militants' in North Waziristan
US Predators struck today in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan for the first time in days, killing 12 "militants" in an area used to stage attacks across the border in Afghanistan.
The unmanned Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers fired four missiles at a compound and a vehicle in the town of Gorvak near the Afghan border, The Associated Press reported. The town is used by the Taliban as a way station before crossing into Afghanistan to fight NATO and Afghan forces.
No senior commanders from the Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror groups based in the area are reported to have been killed.
The strike in North Waziristan took place just days after outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta claimed that al Qaeda was on the verge of defeat and has less than two dozen key operatives left in the organization due to 10 years of attrition fighting US forces.
Panetta said the documents seized during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden showed that al Qaeda was devoid of leaders experienced in executing attacks in the West. Panetta did not release the names of the operatives, but said that both al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and Anwar al Awlaki, the ideologue and operational commander based in Yemen, were among them.
Panetta's view of al Qaeda as standing on the brink of defeat is not shared by US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal. Some of the officers and officials have reviewed the bin Laden documents.
Today's strike also took place after the US announced it has suspended more than $800 million in aid to Pakistan, more than one-third of the amount sent to the country yearly. The aid was suspended after Pakistan had "taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid," White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told ABC News yesterday. Pakistan's support of the Afghan Taliban and its refusal to act against some Taliban groups in the tribal areas, along with questions over how bin laden sheltered in Abbottabad without being detected, have led to the partial suspension of aid. Pakistan has said the cut in aid will not impact operations.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today's strike is the second in Pakistan's tribal areas this month. The last attack, on July 5, killed four "militants" at a "guesthouse" in the town of Mir Ali. From January through June 2011, the strikes in Pakistan were as follows: nine strikes in January, three strikes in February, seven in March, two in April, seven in May, and 12 in June. The previous four months, from September to December 2010, averaged almost 16 strikes per month (21 in September, 16 in October, 14 in November, and 12 in December).
So far this year, the US has carried out 42 strikes in Pakistan, and is well off the pace of the 117 attacks that took place in 2010. 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, 27 of the 42 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 14 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 103 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 81 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.