Slain Al Qaeda leader Arshad Waheed trains in military tactics at an al Qaeda camp. Image from an al Qaeda eulogy videotape produced by As Sahab.
A US Predator airstrike launched against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province in March 2008 killed a mid-level al Qaeda leader.
Dr. Arshad Waheed, who is also known as Sheikh Moaz, was killed in a missile strike in South Waziristan on March 16, 2008. His death was announced on a 40-minute videotape produced by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm. On the tape, Waheed was eulogized by Abu Mustafa Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, and an al Qaeda operative known as Abu Omar Mahmood.
Waheed was a Pakistani citizen from the southern city of Karachi in Sindh province. Prior to joining al Qaeda, he earned a medical degree and specialized in neurosurgery.
Waheed moved to Kandahar after the US invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks in the US. He traveled to Kandahar to “help heal the wounded mujahedeen,” according to the eulogy.
After the US and the Afghan Northern Alliance ousted the Taliban from power, Waheed returned to Pakistan. Back in Pakistan, he urged his countrymen to wage jihad against the West and criticized them for seeking Western passports instead of fighting. He also criticized Pakistani religious political parties for seeking to gain power through democratic means.
The video shows images of Waheed training with al Qaeda fighters in military tactics and praying alongside them. Audiotapes of his speeches and lectures to other terrorists are also played. The narrator described Waheed as “unparalleled in faith, love for his religion, and belief in Allah.”
Waheed was a mid-level al Qaeda leader responsible for training members of al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army in military tactics as well as training fighters in first aid and medical techniques, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.
Al Qaeda claimed Waheed was killed in an attack by “Pakistani and American planes.” The strike was so devastating that his “body was not even found to be intact,” according to the al Qaeda narrator.
Waheed was among 20 Taliban and al Qaeda operatives killed in the attack on a fortified compound owned by Pakistani tribal elder, Noorullah Wazir, who lived in the village of Dhook Pir Bagh some five kilometers from Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan. The region is run by senior Taliban commander Mullah Nazir.
Predator campaign comes under fire in the US
The US Predator campaign inside Pakistan’s tribal areas has come under fire lately from within the US. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, counterinsurgency experts David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum advocated ending the strikes, claiming that the attacks are counterproductive, create enemies, and hurt the Pakistani military’s capacity to conduct counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban entrenched in the Northwest Frontier Province.
But the Pakistani military is not conducting counterinsurgency operations anywhere near the tribal areas where the Predator campaign is focused. The entire tribal areas, particularly North and South Waziristan, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram, and Arakzai, have been ceded to the Taliban, who allow al Qaeda to run camps in their midst. In addition, large areas of the Northwest Frontier Province itself are also under Taliban control or heavy Taliban influence.
Even in Swat, where the Pakistani military is battling the Taliban, the military’s effort is considered “counterproductive to counterinsurgency,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The Pakistani Army’s use of “scorched earth tactics of leveling entire villages” has led to the displacement of more than 2.2 million persons who have fled the fighting.
The Pakistani military’s senior commander has asserted that the military has very little use for counterinsurgency operations to defeat the Taliban. During a briefing over the weekend, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani said his troops have no need of additional training from outside the country. “Therefore, except for very specialized weapons and equipment, high technology, no generalized foreign training is required,” Kiyani said. The military has also signaled it seeks a quick end to the Swat operation, indicating it does not seek to keep troops in the district to practice counterinsurgency.
Yesterday, CIA Director Leon Panetta defended the Predator campaign during a speech at the Pacific Council on International Policy. “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership,” Panetta said.
Correction: Dr. Arshad Waheed was killed on March 16, 2008 in South Waziristan, not on March 15, 2009 in Bannu as initially reported. The entry has been updated to reflect the correct information.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.