At least 13 members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, including a deputy of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the group’s emir, have been killed in a previously unreported US Predator airstrike.
The airstrike took place on Oct. 26 in South Waziristan, according to Reuters, but was not immediately reported. The exact location of the strike was not provided. Two missiles were fired at a compound. Pakistani officials said that 13 Taliban fighters were killed, but tribal leaders put the number of deaths at 22. All are said to be “militants.”
Among those thought to have been killed was Taj Gul Mehsud, whom Reuters described as “a senior Taliban commander and close aide” to Hakeemullah. Taj Gul’s death has not been confirmed, however.
Hakeemullah’s Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is closely allied with al Qaeda and is supported and sheltered by so-called “good Taliban” leaders Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan. Both Nazir and Bahadar are supported by the Pakistani military despite their close alliances with al Qaeda and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Hakeemullah’s forces are at war with the Pakistani state and also send troops to Afghanistan to fight NATO forces. Two of Hakeemullah’s top deputies have recently signaled that their group is willing to make peace with the Pakistani state. He has vowed to carry out attacks in the US, and was behind the failed car bomb plot at Times Square in New York City on May 1, 2010.
The Oct. 26 strike in South Waziristan was one of three in the tribal areas over the course of two days. On Oct. 27, Predators hit Nazir’s commanders in South Waziristan and a group of militants in North Waziristan. Among those killed in the Oct. 27 strike in South Waziristan were Hazrat Omar, one of Nazir’s brothers who served as the group’s operational commander in Afghanistan; Khan Mohammed, a senior deputy; and Miraj Wazir, one of Nasir’s cousins.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
The US has carried out seven drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas this month. Several top al Qaeda, Taliban, and Haqqani Network commanders have been killed during the month of October [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 60 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 60 strikes have taken place in South Waziristan, 36 strikes were in North Waziristan, and one was in Kurram. Twenty of the 23 strikes that have occurred in South Waziristan have hit targets in Mullah Nazir’s tribal areas.
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.