The US again launched airstrikes in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan today, killing 17 people. The drone attack is the fourth this year, and the first since the US killed influential Taliban leader Mullah Nazir.
The remotely piloted, CIA-operated Predators or the more deadly Reapers struck three separate compounds in the Babargarh area in South Waziristan. The area is close to the neighboring tribal agency of North Waziristan. According to Dawn, 17 people, whose identities have not been disclosed, are reported to have been killed.
At least 10 suspected Taliban fighters, including a commander known as Wali Mohammed, or Toofan, were killed in the attack, Reuters stated. The Taliban commander is said to have directed suicide operations for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The three compounds “belonged to Qari Imran, a militant commander believed to be affiliated” with North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Dawn reported. Bahadar operates separately from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Imran was the target of the attack, but his status is unclear. Reuters reported that the compounds were used by the so-called Punjabi Taliban, a group of Pakistani jihadists from Punjab province who are closely allied with Bahadar, as well as al Qaeda and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The US has now launched four drone strikes in Pakistan this year. In one of those strikes, the US killed Mullah Nazir, the leader of a Taliban group in South Waziristan who was closely allied with Bahadar, al Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban.
Last year, the US launched 46 strikes in Pakistan, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. In 2011, the US launched 64 strikes; in 2010, when the program was at its peak, there were 117 strikes.
The program was ramped up by President George W. Bush in the summer of 2008 (35 strikes were launched that year) and continued under President Barack Obama after he took office in 2009 (53 strikes that year). From 2004-2007, only 10 strikes were recorded. Although some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed in drone strikes since the program began in 2004, al Qaeda has been able to replace those lost in the attacks. [For data on the strikes, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013; and Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013.]
The US has targeted al Qaeda’s top leaders and its external operations network, and the assortment of Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups operating in the region. The strikes have largely been confined to a small kill box consisting of North and South Waziristan. Of the 329 strikes recorded since 2004, 312, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies.
Background on Bahadar and his ties to terrorist groups
Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan who is known to shelter top al Qaeda leaders, is one of the most powerful Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s tribal areas. His forces also fight US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Bahadar is also allied with and shelters the Punjabi Taliban and other terrorist groups.
Bahadar has long been described by Pakistani officials as a “good Taliban leader” as he does not openly attack the Pakistani state and wages jihad against the US and NATO in Afghanistan. The Pakistnai government and military have long rebuffed US pleas to conduct an operation against Bahadar and the allied Haqqani Network.
Bahadar and the Taliban maintain a “peace agreement” with the Pakistani military that allows him to run a state within a state in the remote tribal agency. Bahadar and his commanders have set up a parallel administration, complete with courts, recruiting centers, prisons, training camps, and the ability to levy taxes.
The peace agreement allows North Waziristan to serve as a base for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and non-aligned Taliban groups, as well as the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, and a host of Pakistani terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Punjabi Taliban.
Bahadar wields considerable power in North Waziristan. In July 2011, a spokesman for Bahadar claimed that there were no “militants” in North Waziristan, and that Bahadar’s Taliban faction has lived up to its terms of a peace agreement with the Pakistani military. But, as documented here at The Long War Journal numerous times, Bahadar provides support and shelter for top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from a number of Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Bahadar’s Taliban subgroup is a member of the Shura-e-Murakeba, an al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban-brokered alliance that includes the Haqqani Network, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and the Mullah Nazir Group in South Waziristan.
In June 2012, Bahadar suspended polio vaccination programs in North Waziristan in protest against the US drone strikes in North Waziristan. Bahadar has objected to the US drone strikes in the past. On Nov. 12, 2011, Bahadar suspended meetings with the government and threatened to attack the Pakistani state if it continued to allow the US to conduct attacks in areas under his control.
The US has conducted numerous airstrikes against terrorist targets in areas under Bahadar’s control. Of the 329 drone strikes that have taken place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, 91 of the strikes, or nearly 28 percent, have occurred in areas directly under the control of Bahadar. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013, for information on US airstrikes.]