Hakeemullah Mehsud, left. AFP photo.
The US targeted the emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in a drone strike today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strike is the second in the tribal agency in three days.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at Hakeemullah’s vehicle as it left a mosque in the village of Danday Darpa Khel in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan, Dawn reported. The strike killed five “militants.”
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was the target of today’s strike. Hakeemullah’s bodyguard, who was identified as Tariq Mehsud, and his driver, Abdullah Mehsud, are said to be among those killed in today’s attack.
Pakistani intelligence officials are claiming they have confirmed that Hakeemullah was killed in the strike, but officials would not speak on the record, Reuters reported.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that they do not know if Hakeemullah was killed in today’s strike. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which was quick to confirm the death of its deputy emir, Waliur Rehman, in May, has not released a martyrdom statement for Hakeemullah.
Danday Darpa Khel is a known hub for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Haqqani Network. A previous strike, on July 2, killed Abu Saif al Jaziri, an al Qaeda military commander in the Lashkar al Zil, and Maulana Akhtar Zadran, a Haqqani Network officer.
Today’s strike took place just two days after another strike targeted “militants” in the village of Zafar, which is also in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan. The area is administered by the Haqqani Network, a subgroup of the Afghan Taliban that is tied to al Qaeda and based in North Waziristan.
The US targeted Hakeemullah just one day after the Pakistani government announced that it was formally negotiating a peace agreement with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Previous peace agreements have led to an expansion of Taliban control in the tribal areas and the greater Pakistani northwest.
The Pakistani government, which in the past has secretly permitted the drone strikes while denouncing them publicly, has called for an end to the attacks. After a strike at the end of September, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement denouncing the US strike and called for the US to bring a halt to the program that targets al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of terrorist groups operating in North and South Waziristan. And last week, after meeting with President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also publicly called for the US to end the strikes.
The drone strikes are controversial, as groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused the US of indiscriminately killing civilians in strikes in both Pakistan and Yemen. But in the past week, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence released a report stating that 67 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since the beginning of 2009, and claimed that no civilians have been killed since the beginning of 2012.
The Long War Journal has recorded, based on Pakistani press reports, that at least 2,079 jihadists from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of terror groups operating in North and South Waziristan have been killed in strikes since the beginning of 2009, including some of al Qaeda’s top leaders. There have also been 102 reported civilian deaths in drone strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with 15 civilians killed since the beginning of 2012. Civilian casualties are difficult to assess as the strikes take place in areas under Taliban control; the figure may be higher than 102.
The US has launched 25 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. The number of strikes in Pakistan has decreased since a peak in 2010, when 117 such attacks were recorded. In 2011, 64 strikes were launched in Pakistan, and in 2012 there were 46 strikes.
The US has targeted al Qaeda’s top leaders and its external operations network, as well as the assortment of Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups operating in the region. The strikes have been confined mostly to North and South Waziristan; 332 of the 349 strikes recorded since 2004, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies. But al Qaeda and allied groups are known to have an extensive network throughout all of Pakistan.