Taliban commander Hakeemullah Mehsud at a press conference in Peshawar. He is behind the attacks on NATO convoys in Khyber and Peshawar.
Yesterday’s airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Arakzai targeted a meeting being held by senior lieutenants of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in the Arakzai, Khyber, and Kurram tribal agencies, was one of several senior Taliban leaders targeted in the latest US Predator airstrike. Hakeemullah was not killed in the strike, The News reported.
In a phone call to The News, Hakeemullah admitted the strike hit one of his training camps. He then threatened to conduct suicide attacks in Islamabad to avenge the attack as the Pakistani government has been cooperating with the US to carry out the strikes.
The meeting was to be held at the home of a local Taliban leader named Maulvi Gul Nazeer. Twelve people were reported killed in the attack; among the dead were four Arab al Qaeda operatives, including a leader named Qaqa (or Kaka). Qaqa was the deputy of a senior al Qaeda leader operating in the region, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
Nazeer survived the strike, but his wife, his daughter-in-law, two of his sons, and a nephew were reportedly among these killed. Three Taliban fighters were reported killed and six others were wounded. The wounded were shifted to Mamozai “where they had a camp with all kind of facilities, including a dispensary.”
The nature of the meeting has not been disclosed, but Hakeemullah is known to be behind the attacks on NATO supply columns moving through Peshawar and Khyber destined for Afghanistan. His forces have been involved in raids that have led to the destruction of more than 500 NATO vehicles and shipping containers. The raids also have destroyed two vital bridges. Pakistan has closed the Khyber Pass to NATO traffic six times since September because of the attacks. These attacks have forced NATO to search for alternative supply routes into Pakistan.
Yesterday’s strike in Arakzai was the first in the tribal area since the US began targeting Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas in 2004.
Taliban, al Qaeda “quite safe” in Arakzai
Arakzai has become a hub of Taliban and al Qaeda activity over the past two years. Fighting between the Taliban and the military in Darra Adam Khel and in neighboring Kohat has increased the Taliban’s power. Scores of Pakistani paramilitary troops and police were killed or captured during battles in Darra Adam Khel and at the strategic Kohat Tunnel. The Taliban took control of the tunnel for weeks at a time in the spring and late summer of 2008.
The Pakistani military and government pressured the tribal leaders in Arakzai to oppose the Taliban. The Taliban smashed this effort on Oct. 10, 2008, when a suicide bomber detonated in the middle of a tribal meeting of Ali Zai tribal leaders in Arakzai. After the attack on the meeting, which killed more than 150 tribal leaders and members, the Arakzai tribes refused to take on the Taliban.
A similar attack in March 2008 during a tribal meeting in Kohat killed 40 tribal members, including several senior tribal leaders, and wounded more than 40. Any organized resistance to the Taliban in Kohat soon faltered.
The Taliban consolidated control of Arakzai in December of 2008, when Hakeemullah imposed sharia, or Islamic law, throughout the tribal agency. Since then, tribal leaders have said that the Taliban and al Qaeda were “feeling quite safe in Arakzai Agency, which is a strategic place for them as they could easily arrive there from Kurram, North Waziristan and Khyber tribal regions as well as the gun-manufacturing Darra Adam Khel area in the FR [Frontier Region] Kohat,” The News reported on April 2.
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