US drones struck yet again in an area of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan that serves as a safe haven for al Qaeda and several Taliban groups.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more advanced Reapers hit three compounds with two missiles each in the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan, according to Dawn. Pakistani officials said that 18 “militants” were killed.
The exact target of the strike has not been disclosed. No senior al Qaeda or allied jihadist commanders from foreign terrorist groups are reported to have been killed in the strike.
The US is hunting an “important jihadi leader,” in the Shawal Valley, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The official would not disclose the terrorist commander’s identity.
Today’s strike took place just one day after Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged a formal complaint with the US against the drone strikes.
Drones have focused on the Shawal Valley
So far this year, nine of the 33 drone strikes in Pakistan, or 27%, have hit targets in the Shawal Valley. Targeting in the area seems to be increasing; seven of the past 10 strikes have taken place in the Shawal Valley. The previous strike in Shawal, on July 23, killed 12 “militants,” including a Taliban commander loyal to Hafiz Gil Bahadar. Another strike, on July 1, is said to have killed several members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that operates in Pakistan, China, and Central Asia.
Al Qaeda, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Taliban fighters under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan, are all known to operate in the Shawal Valley, which is near the Afghan border. The area is used to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan.
Bahadar administers the Shawal Valley. In 2009, after the Pakistani military launched an offensive in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, Bahadar sheltered the families of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the group’s leader in South Waziristan [see LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation].
Bahadar, Hakeemullah, South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, and Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network are all members of the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance formed in late 2011. The four commanders agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US and NATO in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
The deal was brokered by senior al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al Libi, who was killed in a drone strike this year, as well as by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational leader of the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Mansour, a senior Taliban leader who operates in eastern Afghanistan. An al Qaeda leader known as Abdur Rehman Al Saudi was also involved in the negotiations. Mullah Omar, the overall leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is said to have dispatched Siraj and Mansour to help negotiate the agreement [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda brokers new anti-US Taliban alliance in Pakistan and Afghanistan].
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Hafiz Gul Bahadar or the Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. In June, Bahadar banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan in protest of US drone strikes.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s drone strike in the Shawal Valley is the fifth strike in Pakistan in the week. The US conducted three strikes in the Shawal Valley, on Aug. 18 and 19, and a strike in Miramshah on Aug. 21.
Today’s strike is 12th in Pakistan since June 4, when the US killed Abu Yahya al Libi, one of al Qaeda’s top leaders, propagandists, and religious figures. Abu Yahya was killed in a strike on a compound in Mir Ali. Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkmen fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were reportedly among the 14 terrorists killed along with Abu Yahya.
The US has carried out 33 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Fourteen of the strikes have taken place since the beginning of June; 12 occurred in North Waziristan and two were in South Waziristan. [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 were closed from the end of November 2011 until July 3. 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.
In addition to Abu Yahya, three other high-value targets have been killed in the strikes this year. A Jan. 11 strike in Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network.
On Feb. 8, the US killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a 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. Osama bin Laden described Mansoor as one of several commanders of al Qaeda’s “companies” operating in the tribal areas. He was later promoted to lead al Qaeda’s forces in the tribal areas.
And sometime earlier this year, a US drone strike killed Abu Usman Adil, the emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Adil succeeded Tahir Yuldashev, the co-founder of the IMU, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2009. Adil is credited with increasing the IMU’s profile in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the death of Yuldashev, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Whereas Yuldashev had been content with confining the group’s operations largely to Pakistan’s tribal areas, Adil pushed to expand operations in northern and eastern Afghanistan, as well is in the Central Asian republics.
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 seven more strikes in Pakistan (33) against al Qaeda and allied terror groups than it has in Yemen (26) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2011, the US launched only 10 airstrikes in Yemen, versus 64 in Pakistan.