The US targeted a jihadist safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Kurram today. The drone strike, which possibly targeted the Haqqani Network, is just the second reported inside Pakistan this year.
The remotely piloted Reapers fired four missiles at “suspected militant hideouts,” according to Dawn. Three jihadist encampments and two vehicles were destroyed in the airstrike. Additionally, “three suspected militants,” whose identities were not disclosed, were killed during the US attack, Xinhua reported.
The strike took place in the Shahidano Dhand area in Kurram. US drones rarely target jihadists outside of the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan.
Haqqani Network operates in Kurram
While the target of the strike has not been disclosed, the Haqqani Network – a Taliban subgroup closely allied with al Qaeda which operates in both Pakistan and Afghanistan – is known to shelter in Kurram. The Haqqanis also are supported by Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
The Haqqani Notwork moved its base of operations from North Waziristan to Kurram after the Pakistani military launched an operation against select jihadist groups in June 2014. The Haqqanis were not targeted in the Pakistani military operation, despite claims to the contrary. No Haqqani commanders have been killed or captured since the operation was launched.
The US has targeted the Haqqani Network in many drone strikes inside Pakistan since first launching the program in 2004. Of the 391 strikes recorded by The Long War Journal, at least 93 have focused on the Haqqanis or took place in areas administered by the group.
Several top Haqqani leaders have been killed by the US inside Pakistan, including Badruddin Haqqani – the top deputy and a brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the network who is also the deputy emir of the Taliban. The last Haqqani commander reportedly killed inside Pakistan was Abdullah Haqqani, who served as the group’s director of suicide operations for Pakistan.
Strikes in Pakistan continue to taper off
Today’s drone attack in Kurram is just the second recorded inside Pakistan in 2016. On Jan. 9, the US is said to have killed five members of the al Qaeda-linked Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in a strike in South Waziristan.
Drone strikes have dramatically tapered off since reaching their peak in 2010, with 117 recorded by The Long War Journal. The US launched 64 the following year, 46 in 2012, 28 in 2013, 24 in 2014, and 11 in 2015.
One explanation for the reduction in strikes is that US intelligence officials have claimed that al Qaeda, a primary target of the program, has been “decimated” and “neutralized” in Pakistan and Afghanistan and its global operations have been rendered ineffective. However the data does not support these assertions. For instance, al Qaeda is know to have operated at least three training camps in Afghanistan in 2015, including a massive facility that covered 30 square miles. The existence of these camps was only disclosed after US military officials reported on raids against two camps in Shorabak.
Al Qaeda has responded to the US drone campaign, which is primarily focused on North and South Waziristan (of the 391 strikes, only 21 have taken place outside of these two tribal agencies), by moving personnel to other locations. Osama bin Laden directed that al Qaeda move key personnel from Waziristan into Afghan provinces. Additionally, al Qaeda maintains a large footprint inside Pakistan, far from the tribal agencies.