US Predators struck today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan, killing three “militants.”
The unmanned, CIA-operated Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a vehicle parked in a compound in the village of Azam Warzak. AFP claimed that the “militants” escaped the strike, but The Associated Press said three were killed in the attack.
No senior Taliban or al Qaeda operatives were reported killed in today’s strike.
The attack occurred in an area of South Waziristan controlled by Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri tribal areas. The village of Azam Warzak sits on the border with Afghanistan and serves as a transit point for Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorists heading to and from Pakistan’s war-torn neighbor. Senior al Qaeda leaders are also known to shelter in Azam Warzak; a top al Qaeda financial chief is thought to have been killed in the town earlier this year. And in 2004, the Pakistani military fought the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as well as Chechen and Arab fighters in Shin Warzak and surrounding areas.
Today’s strike takes place as the US and Pakistan are waging a war of words over the latter’s support of the Haqqani Network, the al Qaeda-linked Taliban subgroup that is based in Miramshah in North Waziristan. Several US officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, have accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of directly supporting Haqqani Network attacks inside Afghanistan. Most recently, the US said that the ISI aided the Haqqani Network in attacking the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul.
“Good Taliban” leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
Mullah 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, better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. On July 28, 2008, Abu Khabab was killed in a Predator strike along with four members of his staff.
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.
The US believes it killed Abu Zaid al Iraqi during a Feb. 20, 2010 airstrike in Azam Warzak. Abu Zaid is said to be al Qaeda’s top financier in Pakistan.
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.
And 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 strike is the third in Pakistan’s tribal areas this month, and the first in four days. In the last strike, which took place in North Waziristan on Sept. 23, no senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders were reported killed. The previous strike, on Sept. 11, killed killed Abu Hafs al Shahri, whom US intelligence officials have described as al Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan.
The pace of the US strikes has been uneven over the past year, and the monthly strike totals have generally decreased. From January through August 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, three in July, and six in August. 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 52 strikes in Pakistan. In 2010, the US carried out 117 strikes, which 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, 33 of the 52 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 18 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 113 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 86 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes have targeted cells run by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Group, which have plotted to conduct Mumbai-styled terror assaults in Europe. A strike on Sept. 8, 2010 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.