The US has struck at Taliban and al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies for the third time this week. Twenty-five Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are reported to have been killed and several more were wounded in an airstrike in North Waziristan.
Predator strike aircraft fired two Hellfire missiles at a Taliban madrassa and a vehicle in the town of Khaisor, which is just outside of the town of Mir Ali, Geo News reported. The strike reportedly detonated an ammunition dump at the madrassa, causing a massive explosion. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed.
The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an Iraqi national who is also known as Abu Akash. He has close links to the Taliban, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in January 2007. He serves as the key link between al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, and the Taliban.
His responsibilities have expanded to assisting in facilitating al Qaeda’s external operations against the West, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October 2008.
Kasha commands two local Pakistani commanders, Imanullah and Haq Nawaz Dawar. These two commanders administer al Qaeda’s network in Mir Ali. Kasha also has a working relationship and close communication with the Uzbek terror groups, including the Islamic Jihad Group run by Najimuddin al Uzbeki, who also operates out of North Waziristan.
The US has targeted Abu Kasha’s network several times since the air campaign heated up in Pakistan’s northwest. Abu Kasha was thought to have been killed in an attack in North Waziristan in October 2008, but Taliban fighters said he survived the strike and “is healthy and very much in his routine.”
The last attack that targeted Abu Kasha’s network took place on March 26, 2009. Five Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were killed after Predators targeted a compound run by a local Taliban commander.
Today’s attack is the third inside Pakistan in the past week and the third this month. The last attack took place on May 12, when Predators targeted a compound in Baitullah Mehsud’s tribal area. Eight Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were reported killed.
The US is set to exceed last year’s total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan. Today’s strike is the nineteenth inside Pakistan this year. Only four of those strikes have taken place in North Waziristan. Eleven airstrikes have taken place in South Waziristan, two strikes were in Kurram, one in was in Arakzai, and one more was in Bannu.
US ceased notifying Pakistan of strikes
The Pakistani government has officially protested the Predator strikes in the past, but behind the scenes it has allowed the airstrikes. Pakistani intelligence also passes information to US intelligence to target Taliban leaders.
The US has reciprocated, but the intelligence often is turned over to the Taliban and al Qaeda, who use the information to evade the strikes. The US has stopped notifying Pakistan of planned strikes due to the leaks, Dawn reported.
US Predators are based in Pakistan and Afghanistan and are operated by the CIA. The Pakistani government recently has asked the US to turn over control of the Predators to the Pakistani military to allow them to fight the Taliban.
As the Obama administration presses to provide billions of dollars in emergency aid to Pakistan, US politicians are beginning to question the Pakistani government’s wisdom in criticizing the attacks.
“I wish they’d tell their public about their support of our operations instead of attacking us for them,” Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during a briefing held by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff .
Pakistan’s very public protests “just create[s] propaganda fodder for the very people who are out to destroy us and them,” Levin said.
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 a 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:
May 16, 2009
May 12, 2009
May 9, 2009
April 29, 2009
April 19, 2009
April 8, 2009
April 4, 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.