The US attacked an al Qaeda and Taliban compound in the Bannu district in Pakistan’s insurgency-infested Northwest Frontier Province.
Two al Qaeda operatives and two Taliban fighters have been reported killed after an unmanned aircraft Predator fired a Hellfire missile at a compound in the town of Jani Khel. “According to initial information, the identities of those killed were unclear,” an unnamed intelligence official told Geo News. “Neither is it confirmed if there was any high value target” killed in the airstrike.
Bannu, a Frontier Region, is outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas. Bannu borders the Taliban-controlled North and South Waziristan tribal areas to the east. According to US intelligence officials and reports from the region, Bannu is effectively under Taliban control.
Today’s airstrike is the second outside of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal areas. The first US strike outside of the tribal areas also took place in Bannu, in the same town of Jani Khel. The Dec. 22, 2008, Predator strike killed at least five people, including Abdullah Azzam al Saudi, a senior al Qaeda leader operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province.
Azzam, a Saudi national, served as a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in Pakistan’s northwest, intelligence officials told The Long War Journal after the December strike. Azzam facilitated al Qaeda’s external operations network that is tasked with striking against the West. He also served as a recruiter and trainer for al Qaeda.
Today’s strike in Bannu is the second in four days. On March 12, US Predators attacked a Taliban training camp and weapons storage depot in the tribal agency of Kurram. More than 24 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have been reported killed in the Kurram strike.
The two strikes in Bannu and the two in Kurram since December 2008 indicate the air campaign is expanding beyond the traditional Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds. Previous airstrikes have focused on Taliban and al Qaeda training camps and safe houses in the tribal agencies of Bajaur and North and South Waziristan.
The US has carried out nine airstrikes in Pakistan’s northwest this year.
Background on US strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban 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 those 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:
March 15, 2009
March 12, 2009
March 1, 2009
Feb. 16, 2009
Feb. 14, 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.