US Predators target 'good Taliban' commander in South Waziristan
US Predators struck yet again in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, this time in an area in South Waziristan under control of a Taliban leader favored by the Pakistani military. Today's strike is the fourth inside Pakistan in three days.
The unmanned, CIA-operated Predators, or the more deadly Reapers, fired nine missiles at a compound in the Birmal area in South Waziristan, according to Xinhua. Four Taliban fighters loyal to Mullah Nazir were killed in the strike and seven others were wounded. No senior leaders have been reported killed.
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, and signed a peace agreement with him in 2009.
Despite the peace agreement, Nazir and his followers continue to shelter al Qaeda and other Taliban groups that do attack the Pakistani state. He also sends forces into Afghanistan to battle US, NATO, and Afghan forces.
Mullah Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and slain 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 told The Asia Times earlier this year. "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."
This year the CIA has begun to target Nazir's tribal areas, after focusing nearly exclusively in North Waziristan in 2010. Nineteen of the 21 strikes that have occurred in South Waziristan this year were conducted in areas under Nazir's control (there have been 57 strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas so far in 2011). Last year, only two of the seven strikes took place in areas under Nazir's influence (there were 117 strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas in 2010).
The US killed Haleem Ullah, one of Nazir's commanders, in a strike in the Wana area of South Waziristan on Sept. 30.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today's strike is the fourth in Pakistan's tribal areas in three days, and the fourth this month. Two of the strikes targeted the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, killing a top commander of the al Qaeda-linked group, and another targeted a Taliban mortar team in Nazir's territory in South Waziristan that was firing at US forces in Afghanistan.
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 57 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, that pattern has changed, as an increasing number of strikes are taking place in South Waziristan. So far in 2011, 35 of the 57 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 21 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place 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.