Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS’ Frontline. Click to view.
The May 14 airstrike launched against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in the town of Damadola in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency has claimed a senior al Qaeda trainer and operations commander, US and European intelligence officials said. Meanwhile, Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, said cross-border attacks into Pakistan would continue despite the peace agreements signed with the government.
Abu Sulayman Jazairi, a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda’s central organization, was killed in the Damadola strike along with 13 others, The Los Angeles Times reported. Jazairi is described as a senior trainer, an explosives expert, and an operational commander tasked with planning attacks on the West.
“He was a significant person within the Al Qaeda ranks,” a senior European official told The Los Angeles Times. “Not in the top five, but he’s up there. The suspicion is he was one of those individuals involved in training and targeting Western interests. There is uncorroborated intelligence that he was involved in plots against Europe.”
The Damadola airstrike was protested by the Pakistani government as a violation of Pakistani’s territorial sovereignty. The Taliban carried out several suicide attacks inside Pakistan in revenge for the Damadola strike.
Jazairi is thought to have succeeded Abu Ubaidah al Masri, a senior al Qaeda operative who served as the former operations chief in Kunar, Afghanistan, before becoming al Qaeda operations chief for global strikes. Ubaidah took over for Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, a senior deputy for Osama bin Laden who was personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al Qaeda operations in Iraq. Hadi was captured by US forces as he attempted to enter Iraq in late 2006. Ubaidah is believed to have died from complications from an illness.
Jazari is the second senior al Qaeda leader killed inside Pakistan this year. Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a US strike inside the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan in late January. Al Libi was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and served as a chief spokesman for al Qaeda. Laith also commanded al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
The May 14 strike in Damadola was the fourth US-led attack inside Pakistani territory this year. On March 16, US forces struck at the fortified compound owned by Noorullah Wazir, a Pakistani tribal elder who lived in the village of Dhook Pir Bagh some five kilometers from Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan. Another nearby house, where Uzbek and Arab fighters recently stayed, was also destroyed in a separate round of missile fire.
On March 12, the US military fired guided missiles from Afghanistan into a compound run by Siraj Haqqani, the wanted Taliban leader behind numerous attacks in Afghanistan. The attack is believed to have killed three senior Haqqani network commanders and “many” Chechen fighters.
US troops also killed Abu Suleiman al Otaibi and Abu Dejana al Qahtani during a battle along the Pakistani border in Afghanistan. Otaibi was the minder for the minister of the Islamic State of Iraq’s sharia courts. Abu Dejana was the brother of one of the four al Qaeda operatives who escaped from Bagram prison in 2005. Both Otaibi and Dejana were Saudi nationals.
Baitullah Mehsud said the Taliban will continue to strike in Afghanistan
Just one day after Faqir Mohammed, the deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban and the Taliban leader in Bajaur, said cross border strikes against NATO and Afghan forces would continue despite any peace agreement; Baitullah Mehsud reiterated the point. Baitullah is the leader of the Pakistani Taliban and the commander of forces in South Waziristan, where the government is negotiating its latest peace accord.
“Fighting between the Taliban and Pakistan is harming Islam and Pakistan. This fighting should come to an end immediately,” Baitullah said. “Islam does not recognize frontiers and boundaries. Jihad in Afghanistan will continue.”
Baitullah has led a violent insurgency against the Pakistani government in South Waziristan and the surrounding tribal agencies and settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province. He is directly responsible for killing hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and kidnapping hundreds more. He has led a suicide bombing campaign throughout Pakistan and is responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister, as she campaigned in the military garrison city of Rawalpindi.
The Pakistani government has signed a peace agreement with Faqir Mohammed and Swat’s Mullah Fazlullah over the past month. Neither agreement stipulated that the Taliban must halt attacks in Afghanistan. The government believes their policy of negotiating with the Taliban will end attacks inside Pakistan as well as attacks against neighboring countries and will deny terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan.
For more information on the terms of the peace agreements, see:
Pakistan is negotiating a new peace agreement with Baitullah Mehsud (South Waziristan)
Pakistan releases Taliban leader, signs peace deal with outlawed Taliban group (Bajaur, Malakand Division)
See The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan: An Online History for more information on the rise of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and the peace agreements signed between the government and the Taliban.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.