US Predators killed four “militants” in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, ending a 19-day-long lull in attacks.
The unmanned, CIA-operated Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a vehicle and a compound in the village of Hisokhel in the Mir Ali area, Pakistani intelligence officials told AFP.
The target of the strike has not been disclosed. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda operatives were reported killed in today’s strike. The BBC reported that a Haqqani Network commander named Hafeezullah and a “foreigner,” a term used to describe al Qaeda operatives, were killed in the strike on the vehicle.
Mir Ali is a terrorist haven
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda’s external operations network. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area. Moreover, Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils.
Since Sept. 8, 2010, a total of 16 Germans and two Britons have been reported killed in Predator strikes in the Mir Ali area. The Europeans were members of the Islamic Jihad Group, an al Qaeda affiliate based in the vicinity of Mir Ali. The IJG members are believed to have been involved in an al Qaeda plot that targeted several major European cities and was modeled after the terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
Mir Ali also hosts at least three suicide training camps for the the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Earlier this year, a Fedayeen-i-Islam spokesman claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers have trained at three camps. One failed suicide bomber corroborated the Fedayeen spokesman’s statement, claiming that more than 350 suicide bombers trained at his camp.
Over the past year, the US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill members involved in the European plot. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is the first in Pakistan’s tribal areas this month, and the first in 19 days. The last strike, on Aug. 22, took place in North Waziristan, and is thought to have killed Atiyah Abd al Rahman, one of al Qaeda’s top operational commanders. US officials insist Atiyah is dead but al Qaeda has yet to release a martyrdom statement; al Qaeda also released a Ramadan message from him 10 days after he was reported killed.
The pace of the US strikes has been uneven over the past 12 months, 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 49 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, 32 of the 50 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 17 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 111 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 85 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes have targeted cells run by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Islamic Jihad Group, which have plotted 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.