Pakistani al Qaeda leader killed in March 2008 Predator strike


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.

Arshad Waheed instructs a class.

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.



  • Zalmay says:

    Kilkullen’s comments deal more with the political fallout of drone attacks by foreign forces inside Pakistan, and whatever tactics being used in malakand is a recent and secondary factor to that.
    “Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area.”
    This is the basis of Kilkullens’ argument. The problem with counter-insurgency in pakistan is that it has failed as the laskhars were decimated by the taliban, due partly to inaction and inability by the army to support them. Counterinsurgency at the level preached by the US requires resources at the levels maintained by the US.
    My question is, why isn’t counter-insurgency working for the US in Afghanistan? The Korengal valley is still not under US control for instance.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    For one, the numbers used by Kilcullen and Exum are wrong. Man of the “700” are low level Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. But you may chose to believe the numbers released by the Pakistani propagandists, that is your choice.
    The lashkars were decimated as the Pakistani Army stood by and watched. That is hardly effective. Don’t believe me? Just read up on Pir Saimullah. That doesn’t require US levels of support, it just requires trying.
    The US flat out doesn’t have enough troops in Afghanistan, even the increase is insufficient. But US soldiers still patrol the Korengal and are attempting to do something about the situation. And they do conduct airstrikes there when needed. How’s that working for the Pak Army in Waziristan? Yeah, i thought so.

  • Zalmay says:

    Kilcullen and Exum are pakistani propagandists? A wee bit paranoid? So, what are the real figures if Kilcullen is a tool for “pakistani propagandists”?
    I know very much about Pir samiullah and the lashkars and reasons behind their loss, do you? Do you know the tribal motivations that led to his death? Which is I said they were not effective, as they were decimated. And yes, supporting local lashkars all over a region as large and rugged as FATA/Pakhtunkhwa requires a lot more resources then soldiers packed in pick-up trucks waiting to be ambushed.
    And who is to blame for the low number of US troops in Afghanistan if not US foreign and military policy (iraq distraction, rumsfeld’s emphasis on smaller spec ops teams etc.)?
    As for the Korengalis or the Waziris, it is amazing that NATO, US, or anyone half sane in Pakistan would still think these people can be made to do anything they do not want to do without complete genocide/massacre. The British, Russians, and now the Americans will learn all this the hard way.

  • Mannerist says:

    Bill, what is your opinion on the Balochistan Liberation Army and Brahamdagh Bugti operating against Pakistan out of US controlled Afghanistan? What do you also say about the Sunni extremist Baloch group, ‘Jundullah’, that transits through Pakistani Balochistan, from Afghanistan, to operate in Iran?
    Thank You

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I said “But you may chose to believe the numbers released by the Pakistani propagandists, that is your choice.” The fact is Exum and Kilcullen’s numbers are wrong. That is what I said.
    The numbers I have seen are around 320 killed in strikes total; with about 2/3 Taliban and al Qaeda. You can read the Paksitani press to find that out. Even Taliban sources say these strikes mainly kill their guys. And when you kill the family of Taliban, that turns them against you? Excuse me, but aren’t they already against you be default? And why don’t we ever discuss the enemies the Taliban make in suicide bombings, beheadings, murders, etc. As if this is a silly zero sum game.
    Then surely you are aware Pakistani soldiers stood by as Saimullah was murdered, then later dug up, and hanged from a post? That had nothing to do with driving around in pickups. Rumor has it that the Pak officers at HQ had a good chuckle over that one. The Pak Army won’t protect what is in front of their face. That has nothing to do with resources and manpower.
    You keep shifting to Afghanistan. As another commenter mentioned to you, and you so wisely blew off because it made you look bad: NATO is a foreign force trying to rebuild and Army in Afghanistan from scratch. Now what is the Pak Army’s excuse again? There are more than 650,000 Pak soldiers on active duty. How about utilizing more than 15,000 in Swat for starters?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    To clarify, Kilcullen and Exum are using numbers released by the Pakistani propagandists. In no way do I consider Kilcullen and Exum propagandists. I sat on a panel with Andrew Exum a few weeks back, he is a smart guy and I just disagree with him on this point.

  • Peter says:

    Actually usual analysis pretend that there is a strict line between Taliban and non-Taliban. The spectrum spreads from anti-taliban to taliban, with a continuous spectrum of people with different levels of support for each camp.
    A taliban supporter who provides shelter to taliban is not harmless.
    Finally there a simple realistic concpet that people fail to realize. When the giant(US) is provoked(9/11) there will be consequences for all that stood behind the attackers. “We are unable to eliminate Taliban”(who hosted bin Laden) is not an excuse. People are responsible for the actions of few, in the same way few soldiers’ deviant behavior(murder of innocents) reflects negatively on the entire US including its people.

  • Shade says:

    I was under the impression that Dr. Arshad Waheed was killed in March of 2008. Can’t recall where I got that information, it could have very well been a pre-mature announcement from Pakistan.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Shade, You are 100% correct, I went back and checked. March 16, 2008 in South Waziristan, not March 15, 2009 in Bannu. I have updated the entry and noted the correction. Thank you for the correction.

  • Ahmed says:

    The world now should focus on Jamat e Islami which is openly siding with Al Qaeda in Pakistan

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/20/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Brian says:

    I have to say that the numbers cited by Kilcullen and Exum are so far off the mark as to be reckless with the truth. I have regularly visited this site to learn about the various drone strikes and I have looks at the source Pakistani reporting (which is often critical of US policy – and so is, if anything prone to exaggerate civilian casualties). I have done some rough tallies and it is as Bill indicated – Kilcullen and Exum’s numbers have not basis in any reporting.
    Further, the numbers are absurd on their face. If you believe them, we killed fourteen leaders and not a single henchman or affiliated militant – just hordes of innocents. We have, it appears, an extraordinary knack for killing AQ leaders only when they are not with their compatriots, but instead, only surrounded by crowds of innocents. (that is sarcasm)
    The truth is, the strikes have been extraordinarily effective and precise. Of the hundreds of people killed the vast majority were AQ and Taliban militants. The Pakistani reporting (including sources in the Pak Taliban cited in the coverage) support this conclusion. Nothing Supports Kilcullen’s and Exum’s allegations.
    Indeed, I am convinced that many of these strikes are so successful because locals (real innocents) are informing on the oppressive militants in their midst. So, the strikes are more likely winning over the hearts and minds of the locals since they likely want he militants out. Even if the strikes weren’t winning over the hearts and minds of the locals, they would be necessary as the only means available to make the militant’s training and planning more difficult.

  • deleted comment says:

    comment deleted for violation of site policy

  • Jim N says:

    When you resort to name calling and antagonizing you show your true hand. Looks like Mr R hit a soft spot for ya. LWJ is just telling the truth, even if it hurts your pride.

  • Scott says:

    While I think you are right, Bill, in your sentiment that it is unfortunate for those who skim articles or read headlines to see Kircullen and Exum using “700” as their number of civilians killed.
    But the editorial does explicitly state that this number is suspect, even if it is not go into detail as to why:
    (From the editorial)
    “American officials vehemently dispute these figures, and it is likely that more militants and fewer civilians have been killed than is reported by the press in Pakistan.”

  • Zalmay says:

    “To clarify, Kilcullen and Exum are using numbers released by the Pakistani propagandists.”
    Which respected media source in pakistan released these numbers? First time I heard about these numbers were from Kilcullen. Even I was surprised by the high number of civilian lives, as the numbers in paki media have never added up that high.
    “NATO is a foreign force trying to rebuild and Army in Afghanistan from scratch. Now what is the Pak Army’s excuse again?”
    And sadly this statement shows how little you know about the region. For pakhtuns, everyone not of their tribe is a foreigner. I am yusufzai but would stand out of place among wazirs due to dialect and appearance. This applies to both sides of the border. But I don’t plan on going round and round over the same things, as the basic facts will remain and this long war can continue for the next 1,000 years.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I’ve seen the number cited in a study, I don’t recall where but Kilcullen & Exum didn’t pick it out of the air.
    What you said about the tribal aspects isn’t wrong, but the Pakistani military is well established and well manned, and if they wanted to put an end to it, they would. Regardless of what the tribal situation is.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Too funny I ran this just after pubbing the comment, the timing could not have been better. The answer, Zalmay, is The News, as in the Pakistani newspaper, from April 10:
    LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.
    Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three
    So that settles that, eh?


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