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:
April 1, 2009
March 26, 2009
March 25, 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 2 villages in South Waziristan.