The US killed a commander loyal to ‘good’ Taliban leader Mullah Nazir in a drone strike in South Waziristan. Today’s strike is the first in South Waziristan since mid-March.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired missiles at a vehicle and a motorcycle in a village near Wana. Dawn reported that the strike took place in the village of Doog and killed two Taliban fighters, while Geo News said the strike occurred in Khawashi Khel and killed four fighters.
According to Dawn, Rahmanullah, “a key commander of the Mullah Nazir group and a brother of commander Malang of the same group,” was killed in the strike. Nazir administers the Wana area and supports and shelters al Qaeda leaders and operatives.
Today’s strike is the first in South Waziristan since mid-March. The last eight strikes have taken place in Taliban-controlled North Waziristan.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
The US has carried out 19 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Four took place in South Waziristan, and 15 in North Waziristan. Ten of the 15 strikes in North Waziristan have been executed in or around Miramshah, a hub of the Haqqani Network, which also supports al Qaeda.
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 (19). In 2011, however, the US launched only 10 airstrikes in Yemen, versus 64 in Pakistan.
Late last year, the drone program in Pakistan was put on hold as the US attempted to convince Pakistan to reopen the supply lines to Afghanistan. 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. After the US failed to convince Pakistan at NATO’s summit in Chicago to reopen the supply lines, the strikes have increased. The US has launched six strikes in Pakistan since the NATO summit ended on May 21.
“Good Taliban” leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
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.
“Al Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same,” Nazir said. “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.”
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.
In the summer of 2009, the military signed a peace agreement with Nazir stipulating that he would not shelter al Qaeda or members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which were based in the Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan. The Pakistani government launched a military operation against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in October 2009, but left Nazir’s areas untouched. Nazir has continued to allow the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other terror groups safe haven in his tribal areas.
Significantly, more senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Nazir’s tribal areas during the US air campaign than in those of any other Taliban leader in Pakistan. Nazir also shelters the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in violation of the peace agreement with the Pakistani government.
In the past, the US has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders in Nazir’s territories. Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of al Qaeda’s Lashkar-al-Zil, or Shadow Army, was killed on June 3, 2011 in a Predator strike in Nazir’s tribal areas. Kashmiri, a longtime jihadist leader in Pakistan, also served on al Qaeda’s external operations council.
Another senior al Qaeda leader killed was Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. Abu Khabab was killed along with four members of his staff in a Predator strike on July 28, 2008.
Two other top al Qaeda leaders killed while in Nazir’s care were Osama al Kini (Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam), al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan; and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, one of al Kini’s senior aides. They died in an airstrike in the town of Karikot on Jan. 1, 2009. Both men were wanted by the US for their involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In addition, the US believes it killed Abu Zaid al Iraqi during a Feb. 20, 2010 airstrike in Azam Warzak. Abu Zaid was said to be al Qaeda’s top financier in Pakistan. And in another strike in Nazir’s territory in 2010, US Predators killed Abu Hazwa Jawfi, who is said to have led Jundallah, a Pakistani terror group that is based in Karachi and maintains close ties with al Qaeda.