US strike targets Baitullah Mehsud territory in South Waziristan

predator-uav.jpgThe US launched a covert airstrike against a Taliban safe house in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.

The US targeted a Taliban compound with an airstrike in the lawless tribal agency of South Waziristan, killing between five to ten terrorists.

A swarm of unmanned Predator attack aircraft fired four missiles at a compound run by Taliban forces loyal to Baituallah Mehsud in the town of Sararogha, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The official would not disclose the name of the Taliban or al Qaeda operatives targeted in the operation.

The number killed is unclear, according to initial reports from Pakistan. “Officials claimed 10 Taliban had been killed, a deputy Taliban commander said five were killed, the political administration claimed nine Taliban were killed, while tribesmen claimed they had counted 25 bodies,” Daily Times reported.

Today’s strike followed a clash between the Taliban and the Pakistani military in South Waziristan. Ten people were reported killed after the Taliban attacked a convoy in Speen, also in Baitullah’s territory. It is unclear if civilians, soldiers, or Taliban fighters were killed during the clash.

The Pakistani government has officially protested the Predator strikes in the past, but behind the scenes the government allows the attacks and the military passes some intelligence to US intelligence to target Taliban leaders. US Predators are based in Pakistan and are operated by the CIA. The Pakistani government recently has asked the US to turn control of the Predators to the military to allow them to fight the Taliban.

Recently there have been discussions within the Obama administration to end the Predator campaign, however officials have denied the attacks would end. But the number of attacks per week has tapered off since the beginning of the year.

US intelligence officials said the reason is al Qaeda and the Taliban are adjusting to the US operations. “They’re learning our patterns of attack, cutting back on large and frequent meetings, and butchering anyone remotely suspected of providing intelligence on their activities,” a senior official said.

Even though the pace of attacks inside Pakistan has slowed the past month, the US is still set to exceed last year’s total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan. Today’s strike is the first this month and the seventeenth inside Pakistan this year. The last attack took place on April 29, also in Baitullah’s territory. The region is a known Taliban and al Qaeda hotbed.


Baitullah Mehsud from a recent Taliban video.

Baitullah Mehsud leads alliance against the Pakistani government and the West

Today’s strike is the eighth recorded attack against camps and compounds in Baitullah’s tribal areas. Baitullah is the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, a group established in December of 2007 to unite disparate Taliban groups in Pakistan’s northwest. The Tehrik-e-Taliban has led the insurgency and conducted many of the terror attacks against the Pakistani government.

In February, Baitullah put aside tribal rivalries and joined forces with senior Taliban leaders Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir in February of this year to form the Council of United Mujahideen. The three leaders said they “united according to the wishes of Mujahideen leaders like Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”

The Council of United Mujahideen had pamphlets distributed throughout North and South Waziristan to announce its formation. The council threatened to strike at the US and other countries. The pamphlets also said the Taliban alliance “supported Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden’s struggle” against the administrations of US President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The new alliance further stated it was waging war “in an organized manner'” to “stop the infidels from carrying out acts of barbarism against innocent people” just as Omar and bin Laden were waging war against Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US.

Baitullah has close ties to al Qaeda and maintains safe houses and training camps for the terror group. He also hosts camps and safe houses for the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani terror group allied with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia group that serves as al Qaeda’s muscle.

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Northwest Frontier Province, Punjab, 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. Last updated: April 24, 2009.

Background on US strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban networks in northwestern Pakistan

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 strike targets Baitullah Mehsud territory in South Waziristan

May 9, 2009

US strike kills 10 Taliban in South Waziristan

April 29, 2009

US airstrike targets Taliban training camp in South Waziristan

April 19, 2009

US Predator kills four in South Waziristan strike

April 8, 2009

US strikes Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

April 4, 2009

US launches first strike in Arakzai tribal agency

April 1, 2009

Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safe house 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.



  • C. Jordan says:

    Dawn reports that these strikes hit “Cave-houses”
    Maybe they feel safer hiding in the mountains.
    Can the drones be equipped with bunker busters?
    If so, that should send a new ripple of fear down
    their spineless backs.

  • Marlin says:

    Bill reported; It is unclear if civilians, soldiers, or Taliban fighters were killed during the clash.
    A later report has more specific details.

    ‘Four militants were killed, two of them were arrested and one security official was also killed,’ the official said.
    ‘Four civilians caught in the crossfire were also killed,’ the official said. Local administration officials confirmed the incident.

    Dawn: 15 dead in Waziristan drone attack, ambush

  • tbrucia says:

    If I were a Taliban commander, I’d always be sure that some civilians were near, so as to insure more anger about ‘death from the sky’. The more anger, the more effective one’s own propaganda; the more anger, the more 15-25 year old recruits; the more anger, the easier to motivate the recruits…. Raining down death may kill some commanders, but it does nothing to cut the militants (the fish) off from their water (the civilian population)….only 24/7/365 ground presence can do that…

  • Nic says:

    Bill says ” As of last summer, al Qaeda and the Taliban operated 157 known training camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. ”
    Would someone please explain to me, for I am a “newbie”, why the U. S. does not hit one of these camps with a sizeable number of Predators or in combination with a Cruise strike. Just “wasting” the camp while “school is in session” could disrupt planned offensives. I realize that our current policy is to decapitate al Qaeda’s command and control, but the Taliban’s large offensive plus Pak’s counter offensive seems to have kicked everything up a notch.

  • Render says:

    C.Jordan: Predators might be able to carry the 250lb SDB (unconfirmed but mentioned in numerous places), but none of the larger, more effective bunker busters. Weight issues.
    Nic: I’ve asked the same question. Those camps are not permanent fixtures. They, and the people that use them, tend to move around on an irregular basis, making target confirmation a rather difficult process. They also (as noted elsewhere here) tend to use civilians as shields for those camps.
    When they get confirmed and the civilian presence is minimal, they do get hit.
    Unlike the Taliban/al-Q or the Pakistani Army, we really are trying to minimize civilian casualties.

  • Midnight says:

    That is one very long list, could it be that there is a time and place for everything? You may or may not be targeting, but you’re shooting in the dark and admit it.

  • Kevin P says:

    The MQ-1 Predator can only carry two Hellfire missiles but can hunt in wings of four aircraft (and up to 10 missiles have been fired in one attack). The MQ1B prototypes (with a turboprop engine) can carry heavier payloads but they were only prototypes. The MQ-1C Warrior can carry up 800lbs (I suspect as more Hellfire) plus a nice SAR radar. The MQ-9 Reaper has more substantial hardpoints and can carry up to 3,000 pounds of stores in a mix of 500lb GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb or GBU-38 JDAM GPS/INS guided bomb in addition to Hellfire. Plus Stinger for self defense (not needed so much in this case).

    As these Pakistan attacks all appear to be CIA I’m not sure if they’re using MQ-9 which came into service with the USAF under a year ago.

    Currently they don’t have to bust bunkers. They’re either in soft above ground targets or on the move. And with the Hellfire II either the Blast fragmentation/incendiary warhead or especially the MAC (thermobaric) warhead means everyone inside a structure is at least badly injured. The latter would be useful for hitting caves or other structures with bends or entrance protection.

    In fact a recent attack (hitting a AAA equipped pickup truck in a market) seemed to be more about sending a message about the pointlessness of AAA: marking a convoy as interesting if it has AAA as part of it.

    The main problem here is political. A large US attack on Pakistani soil would cause significant problems.

    The current “hit the leadership (or leadership related) targets” modifies AQs and the Talibans tactics. I presume inducing redundancy in planning so the info for a (Western) attack is not all inside one persons head, reducing the frequency of meetings, forcing them to other communications which maybe be intercepted or retrieved, adding to the peril of moving around and perhaps sowing distrust (who is telling them where the meetings are … perhaps no one).

    From this report it seems AQ is also modifying their tactics too.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/11/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • tbrucia says:

    Reports (5/11/09) are that the Pakistan army is using heavy artillery to ‘soften up’ (?) the Taliban. I wonder how they know that the folks being hit are Taliban? And what precisely does ‘softening up’ consist of? In any event, the civilian population is on the move — not a good sign.

  • Neo says:

    “Reports (5/11/09) are that the Pakistan army is using heavy artillery to ‘soften up’ (?) the Taliban. I wonder how they know that the folks being hit are Taliban?”
    I agree.

  • JusCruzn says:



Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram