Pakistan Strikes at High Value Target

Yesterday’s helicopter attack in North Waziristan is directed at Mohsin Matawalli Atwa, one of the architects of the 1998 attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Eastern Africa


Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah

Yesterday’s assault on a suspected Taliban/al Qaeda position in North Waziristan was directed at a high value al Qaeda target. The Associated Press reports, via unnamed Pakistani sources, the target was al Qaeda operative Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah. Atwah was one of the main planners of the devastating suicide attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998, which killed 291 persons and wounded about 5,000. Rewards for Justice issued a $5 million reward for the capture of Atwah.

“Seven suspected militants and two children were believed killed, but it was unclear if the operative was slain,” according to the Associated Press. A Pakistani minister (unnamed) confirmed Atwah has been killed in the strike. There is no word if other al Qaeda commanders were at the location of the attack.

North Waziristan, Click to Enlarge.

The mode of attack for this strike is critical. Note that Pakistani helicopter gunships struck at Atwah, not U.S. Predator drones based from Afghanistan (or perhaps within Pakistan itself). [MSNBC states, however that “local villagers, speaking to NBC News, claimed a Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile was responsible for the attack.” This is likely a ploy to direct wrath at the U.S., however is not beyond the realm of possibility.] Syed Saleem Shahzad indicates the Pakistani Army has received helicopters and equipment to conduct such nighttime strikes.

The Pakistanis recognizes the there are serious internal political problems with allowing U.S. aircraft to conduct raids within its sovereign territory, and yet the “miscreants” in the tribal areas cannot be ignored, both because of internal security problems and external pressure to root out al Qaeda. The condemnation from inside Pakistan and throughout the Muslim world against the U.S. and Pakistani governments was intense after the Damadola raid. The use of Pakistani air assets to take down Atwah’s hideout solves these problems, as Pakistan is now dealing with an internal security issue and not giving the appearance of having its sovereignty violated by the Americans.

It is very likely the U.S. is providing the needed training, weapons systems and intelligence to conduct this mission. As seen with the Damadola strike, there is plenty of behind the scenes cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan to take out high-value al Qaeda targets.

While this strike is an encouraging sign, there is still the problem of the rise of the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province. Syed Saleem Shahzad presents an alarmist case that the Taliban is massing in North and South Waziristan in the tens of thousands, and this resurgence is fueled by terrorist groups which fought in Kashmir.

The implications are disturbing to the security situation in Afghanistan, and the prospects of nuclear Pakistan falling to the Islamists. Pakistan must decide if it has the will to send in the Army en masse to crush this Taliban uprising.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Marlin says:

    Syed Saleem Shahzad provides additional information about the support provided by the Americans to the Pakistani army for these types of operations.
    According to Pakistani sources, the US government has provided special gunship helicopters to the Pakistani armed forces which have special night navigation facilities. There are 10 such helicopters based in North Waziristan to carry out such operations.
    Pakistani forces generally carry out operations in the night for their own safety as the heavy presence of pro-Taliban militants in the area makes it difficult for the military to operate in broad daylight.

  • ECH says:

    I wonder if the al-Qaeda video was released now as propaganda to counter the US offensive.
    Al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri praised insurgents in Iraq – particularly Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – and called on all Muslims to support them in a video posted Thursday on the internet.
    He called on Muslims to support his “beloved brother” Al-Zarqawi, who heads al-Qaeda in Iraq. “I have lived with him up close, and have seen nothing but good from him,” Al-Zawahri said. Bush, son of Bush, eliminating Israel is the duty of every believer,” Al-Zawahri said.

  • Marlin says:

    A Pakistani cabinet member is now confirming the killed terrorist was Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, although unfortunately anonymously.
    AP: Pakistanis Say al-Qaida Terrorist Killed

  • ECH says:

    Al Qaeda ‘ambassador’ killed in Iraq: US military
    A major Al-Qaeda figure in Iraq was killed near the restive city of Baquba, the US military announced. Rafid Ibrahim Fattah, also known by his nom de guerre Abu Umar al-Kurdi, was an important-Al Qaeda figure in Iraq with ties to militant groups like Ansar al-Sunna, Jaish al-Islami, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, said US military spokesman Major General Rick Lynch.
    “Abu Umar was given the title of Al-Qaeda ambassador and served as a liaison between terrorist networks,” he said, adding that he coordinated the actions of various military groups.

  • TM Lutas says:

    I would be very curious to find out what is the tooth-to-tail ratio for the Taliban. They have to expend some of their forces to ensure that the women are covered, no music is played, the homosexuals are suitably repressed. Somebody’s got to do the beatings, hangings, and beheadings. Somebody’s got to run the informer networks and the court systems dispensing islamic justice. These people don’t just kill themselves. Depending on the amount of repression the Taliban must maintain over the local tribesmen, they may have only a small fraction of forces available to launch offensives.
    As people *are* killed, beaten, humiliated, the Taliban will accumulate enemies just as they did in Afghanistan. Unlike in Afghanistan, they will have an attentive, well funded, Pakistani government more than willing to apply force to expel them at the first opportunity with a fully awake US more than happy to provide a ceiling past which Taliban operations cannot proceed.
    There will be no columns of Taliban troops marching on the capital because the US will be more than happy to annihilate any large formations capable of revolution. This turns things into a test of wills. I’m reasonably confident that the Pakistani government will have enough to outlast the Taliban.

  • Jimbo says:


    I found this snippet in a NY Times article seems his own people ratted him out to the Pakistanis.

    The officials said that information extracted from 19 militants captured in a successful ambush by Pakistani security forces on April 5 in the Shawal region of North Waziristan led them to Mr. Atwa. The militants had attacked a Pakistani security post killing four soldiers after returning from an operation inside Afghanistan.

    The captured men told their interrogators that weapons for the attack in Afghanistan had come from Mr. Atwa.

  • tblubrd says:

    Great info Bill. Two big announcements on the same day, although not exacted the same day. I take it the Fattah a**hole was taken down in March but it took this long to identify him positively. Congrats to the Pakistani’s although I’m tepid about their backbone in staying the course. As you noted, the Taliban are massing fighters in Talibanistan (and others have noted this very thing). I wonder if their objective is Pakistan or Afghanistan?

  • Marlin says:

    The Daily Times has some additional information about the strike on Atwah. They are now saying up to 12 militants were killed. The cabinet minister who initially confirmed the identity anonymously is now named as Information Minister Sheikh Rashid.
    Local administration sources in Miranshah said that up to 12 militants were “confirmed killed”


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