Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.
The US launched two airstrikes inside of Pakistan’s tribal areas on Friday, ending a three-week lull in attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda networks inside Pakistan. Twenty people, including “foreigners,” have been reported killed in the Predator strikes in the Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan.
The first attack took place in the town of Zera just outside of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Three Hellfire missiles are reported to have struck a compound run by a local named Khalil, killing 10 people.
The second strike took place in the town of Gangi Khel near Wana in Sourth Waziristan. Two Hellfire missiles were launched at a compound, killing 10 more people.
No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed at this time, and it is not yet known who the targets of the attacks were.
The town of Gangi Khel in South Waziristan is located in the tribal areas commanded by Mullah Nazir, a Taliban chieftain and rival of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. The US targeted Nazir and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in a strike near Wana on Nov. 7. Nazir was wounded in the attack. Yuldashev’s status is still unknown.
The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha. He has close links to both al Qaeda and the Taliban, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in January 2007. Kasha is an Iraqi national who operates in the Mir Ali region. He serves as the key link between al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, and the Taliban.
His responsibilities have expanded to assisting in facilitating al Qaeda external operations against the West, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October 2008.
Kasha commands two local Pakistani commanders, Imanullah and Haq Nawaz Dawar. These men administer al Qaeda’s network in Mir Ali. Kasha has a working relationship and close communication with the Uzbek terror groups, including the Islamic Jihad Group run by Najimuddin al Uzbeki, who also operates out of North Waziristan.
A pause in strikes
Today’s attacks in North and South Waziristan mark the first cross-border strikes inside Pakistan since President Barack Obama took office. The strikes mark the third and fourth cross-border attacks inside Pakistan this year. The last attack took place on Jan. 2 in the tribal areas of South Waziristan that are run by Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.
The previous day, a strike in Nazir’s tribal areas killed senior al Qaeda leaders Osama al Kini and his senior aide, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. Kini was al Qaeda operations chief in Pakistan. Both men were behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others.
US intelligence believes al Qaeda has reconstituted its external operations network in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. The US has struck at these external cells using unmanned Predator aircraft and other means in an effort to disrupt al Qaeda’s external network and decapitate the leadership.
As of last summer, al Qaeda operated 157 known training camps. Al Qaeda has been training terrorists holding Western passports to conduct attacks, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Some of the 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 for the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other senior al qaeda leaders.
There were 36 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan during 2008, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Twenty-nine of these attacks took place after Aug. 31. There were only 10 recorded strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined.
During 2008, the US strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas killed five senior al Qaeda leaders. All of the leaders were involved in supporting al Qaeda’s external operations directed at the West.
Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan in January 2008.
Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda’s external operations chief, was killed in a strike in Bajaur in March 2008.
Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s weapons of mass destruction chief, and several senior members of his staff were killed in a strike in South Waziristan in July 2008.
Khalid Habib, the leader of al Qaeda’s paramilitary forces in the tribal areas, was killed in North Waziristan in October 2008.
Abu Jihad al Masri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and member of al Qaeda’s top council, was also killed in North Waziristan in October 2008.
US attacks inside Pakistan during 2009:
Jan. 23, 2009
Jan. 2, 2009
Jan. 1, 2009
For a summary of US strikes inside Pakistan in 2008, see US strikes in two villages in South Waziristan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.