US airstrike kills 5 al Qaeda operatives in North Waziristan

The US has conducted yet another cross-border strike in the badlands of Pakistan’s tribal agencies. In the fifth cross-border strike in six days, unmanned aircraft operating from Afghanistan struck an al Qaeda safe house in the village of Gurwak in Taliban-controlled North Waziristan.

Five to seven people have been reported killed in the strike. AFP reported five “foreign militants” – a term used to describe al Qaeda operatives, were killed. The identity of those killed has not been disclosed as Pakistani security forces are attempting to reach the scene of the attack. Geo TV reported that four children and three women were killed in the strike.

The village of Gurwak is in territory run by the powerful Haqqani family. The Haqqanis are closely allied with the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Haqqanis run a parallel government in North Waziristan and conduct military and suicide operations in eastern Afghanistan. Siraj Haqqani, the son of Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, has close ties to Osama bin Laden and is one of the most wanted terrorists in Afghanistan.

Cross-border strikes increase during 2008

The US has stepped up its attacks against al Qaeda and the Taliban’s networks inside Pakistan over the past year. There have been 13 confirmed cross-border attacks by the US in Pakistan this year [see list below]. Five safe houses have been hit in North Waziristan, six have been hit in South Waziristan, and two have been targeted in Bajaur this year. Only 10 such cross-border strikes were recorded in 2006 and 2007 combined.

The attack tempo has intensified over the past week. The US has conducted five cross-border attacks inside Pakistan since Aug 31. Three of the strikes occurred in North Waziristan, and two in South Waziristan.

On Aug. 31, US forces conducted two attacks. Five al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including two Canadians of Arab origin, were killed in an airstrike near Miramshah in South Waziristan. That same day, a strike on a Taliban safe house in North Waziristan killed six. Another attack on a home known to shelter al Qaeda operatives in North Waziristan on Sept. 4 killed four.

The most controversial strike involved special operation teams inserted by helicopters in a village in South Waziristan just one mile from the Afghan border on Sept. 3. This is the second recorded incident of the direct involvement of US ground troops in a raid inside Pakistan since 2006.

Background on this year’s attacks

Three senior al Qaeda operatives have been confirmed killed during this year’s cross-border strikes in Pakistan.

Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s bomb expert and weapons of mass destruction chief, was killed South Waziristan on July 28. Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda’s external operations chief, was killed in Bajaur on May 14. Abu Laith al Libi, a senior commander in Afghanistan and the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was killed in North Waziristan on Jan. 28.

While the strikes have disrupted al Qaeda’s senior leadership, they have done little to disrupt the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

The Taliban has organized some of its fighters into military formations. Al Qaeda has reformed the notorious 055 Brigade, the Arab legion of al Qaeda fighters that was destroyed during the initial US assault in Afghanistan in late 2001. Additional al Qaeda brigades have been formed, intelligence officials informed The Long War Journal.

Foreign al Qaeda fighters have flocked to the Pakistani border regions. On July 23, Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani and his cabinet were told that more than 8,000 foreign fighters were operating in the tribal areas.

US attacks inside Pakistan in 2008:

US airstrike killed five al Qaeda operatives in North Waziristan,

Sept. 5, 2008

Report: US airstrike kills four in North Waziristan,

Sept. 4, 2008

Pakistanis claim US helicopter-borne forces assaulted village in South Waziristan,

Sept. 3, 2008

US hits al Qaeda safe house in North Waziristan,

Aug. 31, 2008

Five killed in al Qaeda safe house strike in South Waziristan,

Aug. 31, 2008

Al Qaeda safe house targeted in South Waziristan strike,

Aug. 20, 2008

Cross-border strike targets one of the Taliban’s 157 training camps in Pakistan’s northwest,

Aug. 13, 2008

Six killed in strike in South Waziristan,

July 28, 2008

Senior Algerian al Qaeda operative killed in May 14 strike inside Pakistan,

May 24, 2008

Missile strike kills 20 in South Waziristan,

March 16, 2008

Unprecedented Coalition strike nails the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan,

March 13, 2008

Missile strike on al Qaeda meeting in South Waziristan kills 13,

Feb. 28, 2008

Senior al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al Libi killed in North Waziristan,

Jan. 31, 2008

For more information on the Haqqani family, see:

The Haqqani Network: Reign of terror, Aug. 2, 2008

Targeting Taliban commander Siraj Haqqani, Oct. 20, 2007

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