Hangu is the latest district to fall under Taliban control. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts; purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.
Ten Taliban fighters, including a commander, were killed in a strike on a training camp and headquarters in South Waziristan. The compound was one of 157 Taliban and al Qaeda camps established in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province.
Taliban commander Abdul Rehman, along with Islam Wazir, three Turkmen, and “several Arab fighters” were reported to be among those killed in today’s strike. Some reports indicate up to 25 terrorists were killed in the attack.
The compound is thought to have been run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami, a radical faction with close links to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. A Taliban training camp and a headquarters building were hit in the strike.
The attack on the Taliban camp in South Waziristan comes one day after a senior US intelligence analyst said al Qaeda has metastasized in Pakistan’s tribal regions, and is poised to strike at the US and the West.
“[Pakistan’s tribal areas] is a stronger, more comfortable safe haven than it was for them a year ago,” said Ted Gistaro, a senior intelligence analyst at the National Intelligence Council said in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have expanded their network of training camps and support networks throughout northwestern Pakistan, beyond the lawless tribal agencies, senior intelligence officials tell The Long War Journal on the condition they remain anonymous.
There are currently 157 training camps and “more than 400 support locations” spread throughout the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province, senior intelligence officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told The Long War Journal. This number does not include Taliban camps and support locations in Baluchistan province.
Other officials refused to give an exact number, only saying there are “well over 100 camps in northwestern Pakistan.” Earlier this year, US intelligence sources told The Long War Journal that there were more than 100 camps inside northwestern Pakistan.
The camps vary in size and specialty, and some are temporary. An estimated 25 to 50 camps are considered “permanent,” meaning they are at a fixed location, with buildings, and sometimes a barracks and a headquarters.
Some camps are devoted to training the Taliban’s military arm, some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups, some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West, and one serves as a training ground the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
Most of the camps are temporary in nature. The trainers may establish a camp in a home for a short period of time, or gather a group of fighters and take them to a location for weapons training and ideological indoctrination. One such camp in Khyber was recently described by The Wall Street Journal.
The support locations provide the Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied Islamist groups with the logistical support to carry out operations. Support facilities tend to be fixed, and include safe houses, weapons storage facilities, motor pools, and prepositioned weapons caches along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Targeting al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas
Today’s strike in South Waziristan is the latest in a series of cross-border attacks into Pakistan by the US military. There have been six confirmed cross-border attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda safe houses inside Pakistan this year. Three senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in the strikes, while several camps run by the dangerous Haqqani Network were hit as well.
On May 14, Abu Sulayman Jazairi, a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda’s central organization who directed the groups external operations, was killed in an airstrike against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in the town of Damadola in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency along with 13 associates. Jazairi is described as a senior trainer, an explosives expert, and an operational commander tasked with planning attacks on the West.
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 US has also struck at Taliban and al Qaeda safe house inside Pakistan at least two other times 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 had 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.
Last year, the US struck at an al Qaeda safe house inside Pakistan on Dec. 28, the day after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. The US military targeted the home of Sheikh Essa, an Egyptian cleric responsible for pushing the Taliban to overthrow the Pakistani government. Essa was said to have been wounded in the attack.
In August 2007, 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 are consolidating their control over the tribal areas and several settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government has signed multiple peace agreements with the Taliban in an effort to stem the violence, but this has only facilitated the rise of the extremists in northwestern Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.