US drones target 'Punjabi Taliban' in North Waziristan strike
The US killed 11 "militants," including two commanders from the Punjabi Taliban, in a strike in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers are reported to have fired eight missiles at a compound in the village of Doga Mada Khel in the Datta Khel area of the tribal agency in the early morning of July 19, according to AFP.
Two commanders from the Punjabi Taliban, a grouping of jihadist groups from Pakistan's Punjab province, are said to have been killed, but their names were not disclosed by Pakistani officials. The Punjabi Taliban, whose leader, Asmatullah Muawiya, also serves as an al Qaeda commander, has been agreeable to conducting peace talks with the Pakistani government.
The July 19 strike is the third in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan in the past 10 days, and the second in the village of Doga Mada Khel. On July 10, US drones are reported to have killed six militants in an attack in the same village. And on July 16, the US reportedly killed 18 jihadists, including 12 "of Central Asian origin," in a strike in the village of Saidgai.
The ferocity of today's strike, with eight missiles fired, indicates that the US is hunting a top jihadist leader in the village.
Datta Khel is a known al Qaeda and jihadist hub
The Datta Khel area, where today's strike took place, is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to senior al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadist groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army, is known to operate a command center in Datta Khel. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri; Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army.
The US has now carried out six drone strikes in Pakistan since June 11. Four of the strikes took place after the Pakistani military launched an operation that is targeting some Taliban elements in North Waziristan.
Prior to the June 11 drone strike, the last US attack took place in late December 2013. The US put the program on hold after the Pakistani government entered into peace talks with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that there was no shortage of al Qaeda and other terrorists to target during the six-month lull. [See LWJ report, US launches 2 drone strikes in Pakistan, breaks 6-month lull.]
The most recent drone strike coincides with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan. The military claims it has killed more than 400 "terrorists" and "foreigners," and zero civilians, during a series of airstrikes in North Waziristan. The Pakistani military also asserts that most of those killed are from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party, two regional jihadist groups with close ties to al Qaeda. The Pakistani military claims to have cleared 80 percent of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. But most of the jihadists in North Waziristan are thought to have fled the offensive long before it began.
The Pakistani military appears to be focusing on foreign terrorist groups as well as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and is not confronting the Haqqani Network or the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group. These two independent Taliban factions are considered "good Taliban" as they do not openly advocate attacking the Pakistan state. But the Haqqanis and the Bahadar group, the two most powerful Taliban factions in North Waziristan, shelter and support al Qaeda, IMU, TIP, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (the "bad Taliban"). [See LWJ report, Pakistan launches 'comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists' in North Waziristan, and Threat Matrix report, Pakistani forces focus on 'foreigners' in North Waziristan operation.]