Unmanned US Predator or Reaper strike aircraft killed four “militants” in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today. The strike is the first in more than two weeks.
The US drones fired a pair of missiles at a house in the bazaar in Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, in the middle of the night, according to AFP. “The compound is located in the money changers market in the Miramshah commercial district,” the news agency reported.
A Pakistani intelligence official said that four “militants” were killed and two more were wounded. The Taliban are reported to be conducting recovery operations at the site of the attack.
No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders or fighters have been reported killed in today’s attack.
Al Qaeda’s external operations network has been a prime target of the covert US air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The US has targeted al Qaeda and Taliban camps designated to train operatives holding foreign passports, while the leadership of the external operations branch has also been hit hard. Additionally, the drone program has targeted Taliban and other terror groups who attack NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network, a Taliban group that operates in North Waziristan as well as in eastern Afghanistan, administers the Miramshah area. Al Qaeda leaders and operatives, who are closely allied with the Haqqani Network, shelter in the area, as do other terror groups.
The US has added eight top leaders of the Haqqani Network, Including Sirajuddin Haqqani, the terror group’s operational commander, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists [see LWJ report, UN adds 2 Haqqani Network leaders to terrorist list]. The Haqqani Network has not been officially designated as a terrorist group despite its overt support for al Qaeda and other terror groups.
US strikes in Pakistan in 2012
Today’s strike in Miramshah is the first since March 13, when the US hit separate targets in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.
The US has carried out 11 strikes total this year. The last three took place in South Waziristan, and the previous seven strikes occurred in North Waziristan; six of those strikes have been executed in or around Miramshah.
The program has been scaled down from its peak in 2010, when the US conducted 117 strikes, according to data collected by The Long War Journal. In 2011, the US carried out just 64 strikes in Pakistan’s border regions. With only 11 strikes in the first 11 weeks of 2012, the US is on a pace to carry out just 52 strikes in Pakistan this year.
The first strike this year took place on Jan. 11; it was the first by the US in Pakistan in 55 days. The previous strike took place on Nov. 16, 2011. The pause was the longest since the program was ramped up at the end of July 2008 [see LWJ report, US drone strikes in Pakistan on longest pause since 2008, from Dec. 19, 2011].
The program was put on hold from the end of November to the second week in January, following a clash between US forces and Pakistani Frontier Corps troops on the border of the Afghan province of Kunar and the Pakistani tribal area of Mohmand on Nov. 25-26. The US troops struck in Pakistan after taking mortar and machine gun fire on the Afghan side of the border from Pakistani troops. Twenty-four Pakistani Frontier Corps troops were killed.
The clash led to Pakistan’s closure of the border crossings in Chaman and Khyber to NATO supply columns destined for Afghanistan; the supply lines remain closed to this day. In the aftermath of the Mohmand incident, Pakistan also threatened to shoot down US drones flying in Pakistani airspace, and ejected US drones and personnel from the Shamsi Airbase in Baluchistan.
US officials told The Long War Journal on Dec. 12, 2011 that the program had been put “on hold” due to tensions over the Mohmand incident, but that the drones would strike again if a high value terrorist target that could not be ignored was spotted.
The Jan. 11 strike killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network. Awan was a Pakistani citizen from Abbottabad, the same town where Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in a cross-border raid in May 2011. Awan is the most senior al Qaeda leader killed in a drone strike since mid-October, when Abu Miqdad al Masri, a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis who also was involved in al Qaeda’s external operations, was killed. [For a list of senior terrorist leaders and operatives killed in drone strikes, see LWJ report, Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012.]
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was also rumored to have been killed in the Jan. 11 strike. His death has not been confirmed, however, and the Pakistani Taliban have denied he was killed.
The US also killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader in a Feb. 8 strike in Miramshah’s bazaar. Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border, and linked up members of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen with al Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan.
Despite the US airstrikes, al Qaeda operatives claim they are still capable of conducting training and operations in the area. Abu Zubaydah al Lubnani, a Lebanese member of al Qaeda who operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border, has said that while the drones have “delayed some operations or even stopped them,” the terror group is still functioning in the region.
“I want here to confirm that Qaedat al-Jihad is still standing in Khorasan, solid and strong, despite what hit it, and it is still producing operations and it doesn’t know the path of despair…,” Lubnani said in statement that was recently released on jihadist forums. The statement was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.