Missile strike on al Qaeda meeting in South Waziristan kills 13

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS’ Frontline. Click to view.

US or Pakistani intelligence has conducted yet another covert airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to reports coming out of the region. Missiles struck a house in the village of Azam Warsak in the tribal agency of South Waziristan. Thirteen were reported killed in the attack. Most were said to be Arabs, yet three Punjabis were identified.

Al Qaeda operatives were thought to be meeting in the home, Pakistani security officials told AFP. Four “guests” were reported to have arrived at the home for meetings. “A house used as a den by Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban militants was hit by a missile,” a senior Pakistani security official said. “Thirteen people were killed and around 10 were wounded.” It is not known if any high value targets were killed in the attack.

The US military in Afghanistan neither confirmed nor denied conducting the strike. But the attack, which occurred at 2:00 AM local time, matches the profile of past US airstrikes against al Qaeda and Taliban high-value targets in the region. This was a precision strike carried out at night, using specific intelligence.

Multimedia presentation of the senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Click to view.

The village of Azam Warsak has served as an al Qaeda haven in the past. The Pakistani military launched its first military operation against al Qaeda in the village in June 2002. Mullah Nazir, a South Waziristan Taliban commander who is touted as being pro-government, claimed his tribal fighters cleared the village of “Uzbek fighters” in April 2007.

The last major strike against an al Qaeda safe house or training camp occurred at the end of January. A missile strike killed Abu Laith al Libi, a senior al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan. Al Libi was killed in town of Khushali Tari Khel near Mir Ali, North Waziristan, right on the Pakistan-Afghan frontier. Adam Gadahn, the American al Qaeda leader wanted for treason, was rumored to have been killed in the same attack, but this was never confirmed. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, and Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, vowed to avenge the death of al Libi.

Prior to the January strike that killed al Libi, the last attack occurred in August 2007, when Pakistani forces hit two Taliban and al Qaeda bases in the village of Daygan, North Waziristan. Camps and bases in Damadola, Danda Saidgai, Chingai, Zamazola, again in Danda Saidgai, and Mami Rogha were hit over the course of 2006 and 2007.

These strikes have done little to disrupt the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda maintain 29 terror camps in North and South Waziristan alone.

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