The Pakistani Air Force launched airstrikes today that targeted “militant hideouts” in North Waziristan, after the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan launched two suicide attacks over the past several days in Rawalpindi and Bannu that killed 31 soldiers and Frontier Corps troops, as well as five civilians. Adnan Rasheed, a jihadist who leads the Ansar al Aseer, is said to have been targeted during the strikes.
Pakistani strike aircraft and attack helicopters targeted multiple villages in the Mir Ali and Datta Khel areas of the Taliban-controlled tribal agency today, according to Dawn. The areas are under the control of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan who has sheltered leaders and fighters from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and a number of other Pakistani jihadist groups.
One of the targets of the airstrikes is said to be Adnan Rasheed, the emir of the Ansar al Aseer Khorasan (“Helpers of the Prisoners”), a group that includes members from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban and was founded to free jihadists from Pakistani prisons. Rasheed is said to have survived the airstrikes and was seen in the Mir Ali bazaar.
The Ansar al Aseer has been involved in a series of prison breaks in Pakistan, and may have executed the Jan. 10 assassination of Karachi police chief Chaudhry Aslam Khan. Rasheed, who was freed in a prison break, has created a “death squad” that has vowed to kill former President Pervez Musharraf.
Although Pakistani military officials said today’s airstrikes targeted only “militant hideouts,” local tribal leaders claimed that villages were indiscriminately targeted. At least 27 people were killed, but it is unclear if they are civilians, Taliban fighters, or a combination of the two. Such reports in Pakistan are difficult to confirm as the tribal areas are under Taliban control and the Pakistani government denies reporters access to the region.
The Pakistani military has indiscriminately used force during military operations in the past. Civilians in Swat and Bajaur have accused the military of conducting scorched earth tactics during operations, and soldiers in Swat were caught on video killing suspected Taliban fighters. In December 2013, the Taliban, Ansar al Aseer, and tribesmen claimed that the military launched indiscriminate attacks on villages in Mir Ali, and released photographs documenting the damage.
Today’s airstrikes appear to be punitive attacks in response to yesterday’s suicide attack in Rawalpindi and Sunday’s suicide bombing in Bannu. In the Rawalpindi attack, a suicide bomber killed 13 people, including eight soldiers, in a bombing near Army General Headquarters. In the Bannu attack, 23 soldiers and Frontier Corps troops were killed in a suicide attack on a military convoy.
For years, the Pakistani military has promised the West that it would launch an offensive in North Waziristan to clear the tribal agency of the Taliban and al Qaeda, but it has failed to do so. Groups such as the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s Taliban faction operate in the open in North Waziristan, and are considered “good Taliban” by Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment as they do not openly support jihad against the state. But the Haqqanis and Bahadar fight in Afghanistan, and shelter and support al Qaeda, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and a host of terror groups that attack the Pakistani state and promote international jihad.