NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/districts are openly controlled by the Taliban; yellow are under threat. Click map to view.
Four killed, 3 wounded in Danda Saidgai, the scene of a major assault on an al Qaeda base in March of 2006
An unidentified explosion in the border village of Danda Saidgai in North Waziristan killed three Pakistanis and wounded four on Friday morning. While the incident seems relatively small on the scale of events in the region, the location of the strike and those involved makes the case more than interesting. The explosion certainly took place at a Taliban or al Qaeda camp. Pakistani authorities claim the explosion was cause by a ‘work accident’ – an explosion of a terrorist bomb factory, while locals claim either a missile strike from Afghanistan or an air strike firing upwards of 5 missiles struck a home and two nearby religious schools, which were empty at the time. The explosion (or explosions) occurred at around 3:30 am local time.
Danda Saidgai is a small town on the Afghan border which sits about 10 miles north of Miranshah, the district seat of North Waziristan. This is the heart of Taliban country. The village has been the scene of multiple attacks by Pakistani and U.S. Special Forces. The most high profile attack occurred in March of 2006, when the U.S. Special Operations Command unleashed Task Force 145, the specialized al Qaeda hunter killer teams, against a sprawling al Qaeda training and military complex which housed hundreds of foreign fighters.
The complex in question was a specialized al Qaeda camp used to train the elite Black Guard, the praetorian guard unit designated to protect Osama bin Laden. Task Force 145 struck with air and ground forces, and killed 45 al Qaeda recruits as well as Imam Asad, a senior Chechen al Qaeda commander and associate of Chechen al Qaeda leader Shamil Basayev, who was killed in June of 2006. Asad was the camp commander and at the time was believed to have been the commander of al Qaeda in Pakistan, a position of honor and power within al Qaeda due to the importance of the country to the organization.
Weeks prior to the strike on the Black Guard camp, a Task Force 145 operation was launched into Danda Saidgai, and directed at the home of Maulana Noor Mohammad. Task Force 145 killed 8 Taliban and captured 5 others during the raid.
According to the Associated Press, Daily Times, Dawn and other Pakistani newspapers, the two religious schools (called Darul Uloom Hassania) that were purportedly hit were owned by none other than Maulana Noor Mohammad, whose home was raid last year. Dawn notes that Noor Mohammed “signed a peace deal with the government in September last year.” That peace deal is the infamous Waziristan Accord, which the Pakistani government ceded control of North Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The Associated Press noted the home that was struck was owned by Habib Ullah, who “declined to discuss his occupation or answer other questions” and “said he was staying at another house in the village when the attack happened.” Habib Ullah’s guests were sleeping in his courtyard.
The Daily Times reported that the Taliban are furious over the strike and have threatened to withdraw from the Waziristan Accord. Abdullah Farhad, “a spokesman for pro-Taliban tribal militants” noted that the Taliban are calling a shura (or council) to discuss the future of the Waziristan Accord.
While it is unclear if the latest Danda Saidgai incident was the result of a work accident, a ground rocket assault from Afghanistan, or a U.S. air strike, the unlikely coincidence of Noor Mohammed’s involvement and the recent history of the region point to some type of U.S. operation. Several strikes of this nature have occurred over the past year, including the Zamazola air strike in South Waziristan in January of 2007, the Chingai attack in Bajaur in October of 2006 and the Damadola assault in Bajaur in January of 2006.
Each of the strikes targeted senior al Qaeda leaders and known terrorist camps in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In the summer of last year, an American military intelligence source informed us there were 22 al Qaeda camps in the tribal areas. The number is only growing.