US drones targeted a group of local Taliban fighters and “foreigners” who were gathering to mourn the death of a commander who was killed in another strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan just one day ago. The strike is the seventh in the past two weeks.
The remotely piloted and CIA-operated Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at a group of Taliban fighters loyal to Mullah Nazir who gathered in the village of Mana Raghzai in South Waziristan, according to The Associated Press. Ten “militants” are reported to have been killed in the strike.
The Taliban fighters and several “foreigners,” a term used by Pakistani officials to describe members of al Qaeda and other allied terror groups, were gathering to pay tribute to a Taliban commander known as Rahmanullah, who was killed in yesterday’s drone strike in South Waziristan. Rahmanullah was described yesterday as “a key commander of the Mullah Nazir group and a brother of commander Malang of the same group.” [See LWJ report, US drones kill ‘good’ Taliban commander in South Wazirstan.]
Pakistani officials told AP that two “foreigners” and one of Rahmanullah’s brothers were among those killed in today’s airstrike. A Taliban commander known as Ghulam Khan was among the eight Pakistanis killed in the strike, according to Dawn.
Today’s strike took place in an area under the control of Mullah Nazir. Mullah Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and 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. 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.
Several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, have been killed while being sheltered by Nazir. [For more information on Nazir and al Qaeda leaders killed while under his protection, see LWJ reports, ‘Good’ Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, and US drones kill ‘good’ Taliban commander in South Wazirstan.]
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
The US has carried out 20 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Seven of those 20 strikes have taken place over the past two weeks. [For data on the strikes, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012, and Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012.]
The drone program was scaled back dramatically from the end of March to the beginning of the fourth week in May. Between March 30 and May 22, the US conducted only three drones strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as US officials attempted to renegotiate the reopening of NATO’s supply lines, which have been closed since the end of November 2011. Pakistan closed the supply lines following the Mohmand incident in November 2011, in which US troops killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani soldiers were killed after they opened fire on US troops operating across the border in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
A US intelligence official involved in the drone program in the country told The Long War Journal on May 28 that the strikes would continue now that Pakistan has refused to reopen NATO’s supply lines for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Two high-value targets have been killed in the strikes this year. A Jan. 11 strike killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network. The US also killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a Feb. 8 strike in Miramshah’s bazaar.
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.
So far this year, the US has launched more strikes in Yemen (22) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula than it has launched against al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Pakistan (20). In 2011, however, the US launched only 10 airstrikes in Yemen, versus 64 in Pakistan.