US airstrike in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal agency kills 30

The US appears to be expanding its campaign of cross-border strikes into Pakistan after several unmanned US Predator aircraft conducted multiple attacks in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of Kurram.

More than 30 people have been reported killed after four Predator aircraft launched at least four Hellfire missiles at a training camp in the Sarpal region that is run by Bahram Khan Kochi, a commander of Taliban forces operating inside Afghanistan, Geo News reported. The toll is expected to rise, as more bodies are thought to be under the rubble.

No senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported killed at this time.

The Taliban have expanded their control into Kurram by backing the wave of sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shia in the region. The Shia have been forced into small enclaves in Parachinar and other areas as the Pakistani military has refused to come to their aid.

The Taliban have used Kurram as a training ground for their forces and have established several bases in the agency, an intelligence official familiar with the situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas told The Long War Journal on the condition of anonymity.

The Taliban in Kurram are led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, a rising star in the Pakistani Taliban. Hakeemullah is senior lieutenant and cousin of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud; he is also a cousin of Qari Hussain Mehsud, the notorious Taliban commander who trains child suicide bombers in South Waziristan.

Hakeemullah has been leading operations against NATO’s supply lines in Khyber and Peshawar. He also commands the Taliban in the Arakzai and Khyber tribal agencies.

Today’s strike is the second by the US inside Pakistan in three days. A strike on Feb. 14 killed more than 25 Uzbek, al Qaeda, and Taliban fighters in South Waziristan.

The Kurram strike is also the first reported attack inside the Kurram tribal agency. Prior attacks have focused on al Qaeda and Taliban compounds in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan as well as in Bajaur. One strike took place in Bannu, a region outside of the tribal areas.

The recent airstrikes in South Waziristan and Kurram are also the first since Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disclosed that the CIA was operating a covert air base that is used to conduct the attacks inside Pakistan. The Pakistani government has denied the existence of the base. But unlike previous attacks, no senior leader in the government or the military protested the strikes.

Background on US strikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban’s networks in Northwestern Pakistan

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.

US intelligence believes al Qaeda has reconstituted its external operations network in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. This network is tasked with hitting targets in the West, India, and elsewhere. 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. The US has also targeted al Qaeda-linked Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan, particularly the notorious Haqqani Network.

As of last summer, al Qaeda and the Taliban 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, some train the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, 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 Shadow Army, was killed in a region controlled by Baitullah Mehsud in South 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.

In 2009, US strikes have killed two senior, long-time al Qaeda leaders. Osama al Kini and his senior aide, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan were killed in a New Years Day strike in South Waziristan. 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 attacks inside Pakistan during 2009:

US airstrike in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal agency kills 30

Feb. 16, 2009

US Predator strike in South Waziristan kills 25

Feb. 14, 2009

US strikes al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan

Jan. 23, 2009

US hits South Waziristan in second strike

Jan. 2, 2009

US kills four al Qaeda operatives in South Waziristan strike

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.

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20 Comments

  • C. Jordan says:

    Bravo! Keep up the great work troops.
    This is telling.. “But unlike previous attacks, no senior leader in the government or the military protested the strikes. ”
    Are we seeing a sea change in allied strategy in the region? I do hope.

  • Kasthuri says:

    It looks all the more like the Pakis had already come to a tacit understanding with the US. If not, they would have come to the conclusion that there was no use in telling the US to stop the strikes – which the US wouldn’t. But, the big question is why the US does not realize that the strikes are going to antagonize the Pakis against them even more? They need the support of the people to accomplish anything in those areas. Have they already written of such support?

  • Alex says:

    My sentiments are similar as Kasthuri; I’m a bit surprised (pleasantly) that the Pakistani government has been pretty quiet about this. This forces the Taliban/AQ to stay defensive.

  • NS says:

    Score !! I dont think this is a viable long term strategy, but get as many of these terrorist as possible via drone attacks, if possible.
    The intel that the US seems to be getting these days hopefully gets better.
    As far as Paki public opinion is concerned, you can always expect protests/rallies etc against the Government’s tacit support for US airstrikes – as long as these protestors are peaceful, they are nothing more than public embarrassment for the Govt.
    How ever if these airstrikes are going to egg people on to join the Taliban, more drone attacks may be needed in the future. You just cannot reason with these religious fanatics.

  • Barlowmaker says:

    I look forward to the day that the strikes against these terror camps are delivered with B-2s and not Predators.

  • jeandon says:

    Gosh, imaginve that. If we don’t agree to allow the Paks to provide safe havens for the terrorists who daily cross back over the nonexistent “border” to kill Americans and NATO allies, the feckless Paks will be very annoyed with us! Now there’s a recipe for defeat.
    If you think war is hell, try defeat!! Barlowmakeer has it right on. We should return to the doctrine that deTalibanated Afghanistan in a matter of months. Drive permanently into the tribal areas with special ops raining down 2000lb bombs from the sky with exquisite accuracy. Hitting all 157 training camps in the process. Enlist willing allies among the locals to help. Invite the Paks to move in and take over and control the areas when they can show they have the desire and ability to do so.

  • Bill longley says:

    “Taliban-controlled tribal agency of Kurram”
    kurram is not taliban controlled…. it has large shia population and Turi tribe as largest tribe…turies are shias
    rest bangash are sunnies …. a minority is deobandi taliban…

  • Kasthuri says:

    Any forced move by the US in the Paki territory is going to break Pakistan into pieces. Is US ready for that? The 10% Talibans will grow to 50%.
    “desire and ability to do so” is rightly put but do they have the desire or the ability is the question.

  • Viliger says:

    Bill longley:
    Thats good, then the majority of the people of kurram should be pleased about the strikes. And neither the US nor Pakistan need be shy of the ‘Tom Dick or Harry’ (per Longley’s comments on the sharia report) who oppose these.
    Thank you, this may help allay the concerns of many of the commenters above, and hopefully Islamabad itself (who is supposed to be at war with these talibani ‘miscreants’).

  • Bill longley says:

    Viliger
    friend we are not like americans or europeions….we might have disputes amoungst our selves…but we dont like out siders to come and kill our people… its better that US learn to respect the lives of our people…. we know better that these fanatics are the biggest threat to our national security…. we have sacrificed more than 1500 soldiers….but i feel US superiority complex is damageing this war on terror more than it benifits…
    give us info our forces will kill them…but if US attacks and kill… at least i feel that a part of my self killed with every strike….
    TRUST PAKISTAN WE HAVE SACRIFICED MORE THAN YOU DID IN AFGHANISTAN>>> DONT REMIND THE MASSES THAT US IS AN IMPERIAL POWER

  • Viliger says:

    Kasthuri: Pakistan is already broken and broke. That is an actuality, not a forecast.
    It cannot afford to fight its war of its own, not militarily nor financially, and probably not politically or ideologically. It needs help and the world needs its security. The US/NATO need to get total control and secure their nukes before any number of their non-state actors, including a rogue ISI, gets them.
    I would like to know who has the control today?

  • Viliger says:

    Longley:
    ‘friend we are not like americans or europeions….we might have disputes amoungst our selves…but we dont like out siders to come and kill our people…
    at least i feel that a part of my self killed with every strike….’
    I wonder if you felt the same part of you being killed
    during 9/11, 7/7, 26/11 and numerous other similar cowardly acts against UNARMED INNOCENT CHILDREN, WOMEN AND MEN who were not out to make any sacrifices?
    Your problem has been that your “out siders” have been going around the world killing innocent human bbeings. At the same time, failing miserably to settle your problems amongst yourselves.
    Friend, pakistan may have a deep history of culture but the culture of violence that has been bred for sometime now means that your security is inferior to that prevalent in the US and Europe or, for that matter across much of Asia.
    As long as you have barbarians, willing to travel, the gates of the global village are insecure.
    You may or may not have sacrificed more in afghanistan but you simply would not have achieved it without the US. You need help. We also don’t like outsiders coming and killing our people.

  • Bill longley says:

    This idology was introduced in Pakistan during Afghan Jihad era…. According to Brigzniev Brezinsky…. US wanted to take revenge of Vietnam Debacle from Soviat Union… for that it Started financeing Afghan Mullahs 6 months before Soviat intervention…(Rouge State,Worlds only super power by Willium Blum). In this Jihad CIA alone gave 3 billion Dollars to Mujahideen…and brought Muslim militants to Pakistan to fight its JEHAD AGAINST SOVIATS…. thousands of Tafseers preaching militant Islam were Published in US presses and distributed free in Pakistan and Militants…. US media and film like RAMBO 3 Called these militants as Mujahideen fighting for cause of God…
    …………..During Cold war…militant Islam was US and wests biggest ally… US and Britan financed Akhwan ul Muslimeen during 50’s and 60’s to counter Nassirism and Arab Nationalism… it Intensionally Brought ALE SAUD OF NAJAD TO HIJAZ TO REPLACE(BRITISH & US) ITS ALLY SHARIF OF MAKKAH ,WHO GOT IRAQ AND JORDEN AS A REPLACEMENT………….
    //mbik14.blogspot.com/2009/02/two-different-wars-on-terror.html

  • Carl W. Goss says:

    Good article. I wonder where this so-called predator base inside Pakistan is supposed to be?
    You’d think the taliban-types would have photographed the site and put in on the internet.

  • Zarin says:

    The strike on Terrorist base in Kurram proved that the lashes with shia Turi tribe were not sectarian. This area is full of terrorists gathered from all around. Hakimullah Mehsud is in the ares of Mamozai tribe not far away from this area. More drones are required to flush out these notorious elements from this area.

  • viliger says:

    Longley:
    You still did not answer my question…
    “I wonder if you felt the same part of you being killed
    during 9/11, 7/7, 26/11 and numerous other similar cowardly acts against UNARMED INNOCENT CHILDREN, WOMEN AND MEN who were not out to make any sacrifices?”

  • Brian says:

    Viliger,
    to your comment: “and numerous other similar cowardly acts against UNARMED INNOCENT CHILDREN, WOMEN AND MEN who were not out to make any sacrifices.”
    Who is alleging that the missile strikes were targeted at “UNARMED INNOCENT CHILDREN, the WOMEN AND MEN who were not out to make any sacrifices”. Even the Pakistani government concedes that the stikes are hitting adult male talibs, uzbeks and AQ types. The fact that after each strike the site is sealed off by talibs means that ordinary “INNOCENT CHILDREN, WOMEN AND MEN” were not the target. Over the past 8 months our stikes have kiled dozens of high level or mid level AQ members. If you are not a militant islamist you should be thanking us.

  • viliger says:

    Brian, you’re dead right i’m not an islamic militant and if it is you i should be thanking, then thank you.
    My remark was addressed to a certain Bill Longley–i recommend you read his and my comments further above, as reference to the context in which my comment, to which you refer, was made. Long sentence!
    He hasn’t commented yet–perhaps it’s an inconvenient question…

  • Brian says:

    Viliger, Sorry I totally misread your comment.
    Bill Longley, we would love Pakistanis to take care of their militant problem. However, Pakistan has had years to do it since 9/11 and has utterly failed. Indeed, the problem has only grown worse. I for one am sorry for the Pakistani military losses in the failed effort. It is particularly sad that the lives have been wasted on half efforts. I think that the Pakistani population is not yet willing to make the sacrifices it will have to make to quash the militants, and my guess is that it never will be (the militants are too numerous and motivated for the few soft westernized Pakistanis). While we hope against reason for a change, we are forced to strike in the meantime just to keep the jihadis’ heads down.
    I also do not think that Pakistan should expect any more significant help from the west. What has been given so far has not produced results. Pakistan is going to have to do this the old fashioned way – with its own blood an treasure. It is going to have to do it in its own best interests (and the rest of the world is going to ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan – especially if there is another Pakistan-based attack on another country – until it is Pakistan’s highest priority).
    Please remember, the militants will come after moderate Pakistanis and their government first – they are the closer and weaker target. It is already happening. Pakistan will fall to the militants before Afghanistan does. We can hold them off indefinitely, Pakistan cannot.

  • Bangash Khan says:

    These airstrikes kill some terrorists, mostly civilians and make American arm-chair warriors feel macho.
    Now if only some airstrikes could be conducted against the poppy fields of Afghanistan, the main source of terrorist financing.

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