The US launched yet another airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, killing six “militants” in an area known to host al Qaeda and other foreign terror groups. The drone strike is the seventh this year.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at compound and a motorcycle in the village of Hisokhel Khel near the town of Mir Ali, according to AFP. Pakistani officials claimed that six “militants” were killed in the attack.
The target of the strike has not been identified, and no senior Taliban or al Qaeda commanders have been reported killed at this time.
The US has now launched seven drone strikes in Pakistan this year. Four of the strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, and the other three in South Waziristan, another safe haven for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terror groups.
Four senior and midlevel al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are reported to have been killed in the seven strikes since the beginning of the New Year. 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, in a strike on Jan. 3. In a second strike on Jan. 3, the US killed Faisal Khan, commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan commander. In one of two strikes on Jan. 6, the US killed Wali Mohammed, a Taliban commander who is said to have directed suicide operations for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. And in one of the two strikes on Jan. 8, an al Qaeda leader known as Sheikh Yasin Al Kuwaiti is reported to have been killed.
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 332 strikes recorded since 2004, 315, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies.
Mir Ali is a terrorist haven
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda’s external operations network. He is rumored to have been killed in a US drone strike last year, but the report was never confirmed.
Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area. Moreover, Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils.
Since Sept. 8, 2010, several Germans and Britons have been reported killed in Predator strikes in the Mir Ali area. The Europeans were members of the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), an al Qaeda affiliate based in the vicinity of Mir Ali. The IJG members are believed to have been involved in an al Qaeda plot that targeted several major European cities and was modeled after the terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008. The European plot was orchestrated by Ilyas Kashmiri, the al Qaeda leader who was killed in a US drone strike in June 2011.
Mir Ali also hosts at least three suicide training camps for the the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. In early 2011, a Fedayeen-i-Islam spokesman claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers have trained at three camps. One failed suicide bomber corroborated the Fedayeen spokesman’s statement, claiming that more than 350 suicide bombers trained at his camp.
Prior to this year, the US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill members involved in the European plot. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region. These groups are given aid and shelter by Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup run by Siraj and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
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.