US Predators strike in North Waziristan
The unmanned, CIA-operated Predators and Reapers fired missiles at a vehicle in the village of Kutab Khel in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan today. Four "militants" were killed in the attack, local Pakistani officials told The Associated Press.
The target of today's strike is unclear. No senior commanders from the Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror groups based in the area are reported to have been killed.
The village is known to host a "mix of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters, as well as other foreign militants," according to AP. The term 'foreign fighters' is often used to describe al Qaeda and other allied terror groups from outside Pakistan.
Today's attack took place in an area of North Waziristan controlled by the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban group that is a favorite proxy of Pakistan's military and intelligence services and is also closely allied to al Qaeda. The Haqqani Network shelters and supports al Qaeda, and launches attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces across the border.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, is a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis as well as the Taliban's Quetta Shura. The US government has put a $5 million bounty out for Siraj and has placed him on the list of specially designated global terrorists. Two of Siraj's brothers, Nasirruddin and Badruddin, and his uncle, Khalil, have also been added to the US' list of designated terrorists, for their activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as their support for al Qaeda.
In North Waziristan, the Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. In addition, the Haqqanis have established multiple training camps and safe houses used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives, as well as by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has refused to move against Siraj and the Haqqani Network, despite his support for al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. The Haqqanis are viewed by the Pakistani military as both a strategic asset against India and its prime conduit for influence in Afghanistan.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today's strike is the second in Pakistan's tribal areas this month, and the second in two days. The last strike in July took place on July 12 in South Waziristan.
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, 12 in June, and three in July. In the last four months of 2010, the US 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 45 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, 28 of the 45 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 16 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 106 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 82 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.