US launches first strike in Arakzai tribal agency

HAKEEM%20ULLAH%20MAHSUD-web-version.JPG

Taliban commander Hakeemullah Mehsud at a press conference in Peshawar. He is behind the attacks on NATO convoys in Khyber and Peshawar.

The US air campaign continues to expand beyond the traditional hunting grounds of the Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. The US conducted its first Predator strike in the Arakzai tribal agency today.

The attack took place in the town of Khadzai, a region run by Hakeemullah Mehsud, a senior lieutenant to Pakistani Taliban chieftain Baitullah Mehsud. A Predator launched at least one missile at one of Hakeemullah’s compounds.

Twelve Taliban fighters have been killed and twelve more were wounded, Geo News reported. It is not known if any senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been killed. Hakeemullah is not believed to have been killed in the attack.

Hakeemullah Mehsud is a rising star in the Pakistani Taliban. He is a 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. His forces have been behind raids that have led to the destruction of more than 500 NATO vehicles and shipping containers. The raids have also 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.

Hakeemullah commands Taliban in the Arakzai, Kurram, and Khyber tribal agencies. Recently, he held an open press conference in Peshawar. The government made no effort to detain him.

Today’s attack is the twelfth inside Pakistan this year and follows a strike against a Taliban convoy in North Waziristan just five days ago.

Predator strike zone continues to expand

Today’s attack in Arakzai indicates that the US is actively expanding its Predator campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban targets beyond the traditional hunting grounds of North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. Prior to December of 2008, all of the strikes were carried out in these three tribal areas.

But on Dec. 22, the US struck for the first time outside of these three tribal agencies. A Predator attacked a Taliban safehouse in the Bannu Frontier Region, an area inside Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Since then, there have been two strikes inside the Kurram tribal agency and another in Bannu.

The Arakzai attack took place just one day after Baitullah Mehsud threatened to strike in Washington, DC in revenge for US air attacks in North and South Waziristan.

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, in 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 that 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 in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. 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 Year’s 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 launches first strike in Arakzai tribal agency

April 1, 2009

Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safehouse in North Waziristan

March 26, 2009

US airstrike kills 8 in Baitullah Mehsud’s hometown

March 25, 2009

US launches second strike outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas

March 15, 2009

US missile strike in Kurram agency kills 14

March 12, 2009

US airstrike kills 8 in South Waziristan

March 1, 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 4 al Qaeda operatives in South Waziristan strike

Jan. 1, 2009

For a summary of US strikes inside Pakistan in 2008, see US strikes in 2 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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10 Comments

  • Minnor says:

    Orakzai and Kurram are easy targets for pak army, as there is significant minority shia population. If pak does not take action there – world will have to doubt their commitment.
    But this report missed to mention deadly terror strike of oct 2008 in Orakzai.

  • Max says:

    When, O when, are we going to get serious with these people? Pin-prick attacks with teeny-tiny hellfire missiles are a laugh-riot. We need to send in waves of B1 and B52 bombers with truckloads of 500-lb and 2000 lb bombs to really get their attention. Not a single terrorist camp should be allowed to operate with impunity, period.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    Overt operations will complicate the situation. Give the current strategy about a year to see what transpires. B Mehsud has just painted a target on his back. He’s young and thinks he’s bullet proof. We will see. We’ve initiated a bottoms-up strategy, which worked in Iraq. Get the technical people first, then cut the head.

  • Sam says:

    These attacks might just be pin-pricks, but hammering away at them little by little is better than nothing.
    Their attacks against ‘disloyal’ civilians and regular policemen show that they’re getting frustrated, that’s why lashing out at the softest and easiest targets availalbe. The more we shake the hornets’ nest, the more indiscriminate their attacks will get, the more likely another Awakening movement in will arise.
    If that happens, these clowns will have nowhere else to run to.

  • jayc says:

    As Hamas learned in Palestine, it is hard to go on the offensive when you are running for your life.
    The purpose of a suicide bomber is to install fear; the Predator is our version.

  • DT7244A says:

    Bordering on Chaos
    //www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/03/taliban_attack_nato_2.php
    //www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/04/us_launches_first_st.php
    The Taliban in Afghanistan has been increasingly resurgent, regrouping and becoming more dangerous after years of subdued fighting with American and NATO forces. Part of this resurgence has been the targeting of NATO supply lines coming through the Khyber Pass, in Northeastern Afghanistan by Peshawar, Pakistan.
    It makes perfect sense. Despite the straining of U.S. forces (focus shifting from Afghanistan to Iraq), U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are still very deadly and troublesome for the Taliban to target. They are equipped, trained, and lethal warriors. A fight with them is not desirable. Consider rather, how they are armed and where their supplies come from. Much is trucked in from abroad, up to 70% of NATO supplies, and 40% of NATO fuel is trucked from Pakistan via the Khyber Pass. The trucks that bring supplies through this bottleneck are considerably more vulnerable than alert soldiers. They are large, slow, and are the lifeblood of NATO forces. Stopping supply runs makes the NATO soldiers do more with less, evening the field (to a degree) for the less-equipped Taliban.
    The attacks have broader complications as well. US and NATO allies have been forced to seek alternate arrangements to bring supplies in. Deals have been cut with Russia and other central Asian republics to allow materials through their countries into Afghanistan. This makes the mission in Afghanistan more complex, by having to deal with Russia, a conspicuously non-NATO country (re: Cold War) as a condition of doing business in Afghanistan. The extra time and security needed to oversee this will add to the costs already mounting in doing business in Afghanistan.
    Even more daring than targeting supplies mid-trip, Taliban insurgents hit a truck terminal early in the morning of March 16, 2009, tying up and gagging guards while setting fire to more than 30 vehicles and containers. During the last few months of 2008, over 450 vehicles and were destroyed in Pakistan. To combat this problem, the United States must resort to predator drone guns operating in Pakistan, a further problem, since the U.S. is not at war with Pakistan.
    The Taliban is skirting the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan much as they have been for the past eight years, but this time they are striking the weakest and most vulnerable link – a smart strategy by their part. By forcing the Americans to attack in Pakistan, they extend their base of recruitment from Afghanistan into Pakistan as well. They seek a retaliatory overreaction by American forces, and one that expands the current conflict. Attacks within tribal areas further galvanize locals against the U.S., and will likely offer aid to the Taliban. As of April 1, 2009, twelve attacks have been made within Pakistan by U.S. predator drones.

  • NEO says:

    This is my take on the situation for what it is worth.
    I think the situation calls for more frequent Drone attacks of this sort, but we do have to be careful not to overstep. Increased strikes can’t be seen as an unjustifiable escalation.
    There seems to be a clandestine tug of war going on within the Pakistani security apparatus between those that support the Taliban and those that oppose them. The prize of this struggle is a fickle Pakistani public and public servants who are sitting on the fence.
    Those that oppose the Taliban are in an uncomfortable alliance with the United States. They realize that allying themselves with the US is publicly unpopular and a very touchy subject. Right now the two sides would rather not risk an internal civil war so this has become a bit of a proxy fight. On one side Taliban and its ISI allies are trying to undercut the elected government and security apparatus, on the other end people higher up in the security apparatus are cooperating on intelligence gathering with the US but fear admitting what the full extent of this cooperation is.
    The question I can’t answer is how “official”

  • C. Jordan says:

    Great Analysis Neo,
    “What they (the Pakistani people) don’t realize is that the Taliban isn’t the sort of movement that accepts any sort of neutrality.”
    This will ultimately be the Taliban’s undoing.

  • Neo says:

    I believe I have found the elusive “Peaceful Taliban”
    //moment.ee/aju/puu_kitsed_3865.jpg
    They tend to be on the stubborn side but if you wait long enough a few will eventually cooperate.
    Happy 4-1 everyone

  • Render says:

    76 B-52’s (20 in reserve).
    66 B-1’s (24 in reserve).
    20 B-2’s.
    (est)
    Smart bomb delivery trucks.
    NO
    WAVES,
    R

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