US Predators struck in Pakistan’s tribal areas for the fourth time in five days, killing six “militants” in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan.
The unmanned CIA-operated Predators, or the more deadly Reapers, fired six missiles at a vehicle and a compound in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, according to Xinhua. AFP reported that the vehicle was the primary target and the compound was damaged in the attack.
The identities of the six militants killed were not disclosed. “Armed Taliban arrived at the scene and removed the bodies,” Xinhua reported.
Today’s strike is the fourth this week. Earlier in the week, the US launched two attacks in South Waziristan and another in North Waziristan.
Datta Khel is a known al Qaeda hub
The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel.
Datta Khel serves as a command and control center for al Qaeda’s top leaders, and some of them have been targeted and killed there. A strike in Datta Khel on Dec. 17, 2009, targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, were both killed in the attack.
But the most significant attack in Datta Khel took place on May 21, 2010, and resulted in the death of Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Yazid served as the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the wider Khorasan, a region that encompasses portions of Pakistan, Iran, and several Central Asian states. More importantly, Yazid was al Qaeda’s top financier, which put him in charge of the terror group’s purse strings. He served on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or top decision-making council. Yazid also was closely allied with the Taliban and advocated the program of embedding small al Qaeda teams with Taliban forces in Afghanistan, a practice well-established in the country now.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations 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, the other major Taliban group based there. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. Yet Bahadar, the Haqqanis, and other Taliban groups openly carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
The US has carried out eight drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas this month, killing several top al Qaeda, Taliban, and Haqqani Network commanders [see LWJ report, 2 senior al Qaeda leaders killed in recent drone strikes in 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 September 2011, the strikes in Pakistan were as follows: nine strikes in January, three in February, seven in March, two in April, seven in May, 12 in June, three in July, six in August, and four in September. 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 61 strikes in Pakistan. In 2010, the US carried out 117 strikes, which was more than double 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, that pattern has changed, as an increasing number of strikes are taking place in South Waziristan. So far in 2011, 23 of the 61 strikes have taken place in South Waziristan, 37 strikes were in North Waziristan, and one was in Kurram.
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.