Yesterday’s follow-on Predator attack at a funeral for a Taliban commander targeted senior Pakistani and Afghan leaders of the group. The death toll in the attack has jumped to 83, and two Taliban commanders were rumored to have been killed, although one commander targeted confirmed he was alive and an aide to another said the leader was not killed.
Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud; Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior commander in Baitullah’s network; and Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a field commander in the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, were targeted in the Predator attack in Pakistan’s lawless tribal agency of South Waziristan.
The attack took place in the Ladha region as scores of Taliban leaders and fighters were attending the funeral of Khwaz Ali Mehsud, a mid-level commander in Baitullah’s network. The initial attack on the funeral procession was followed up with strikes on Taliban vehicles as they attempted to flee the attack site.
Khwaz was killed in a Predator airstrike in Makeen earlier that morning. The attack killed five other low-level Taliban fighters.
Khwaz was “beloved” by Baitullah, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The News described Khwaz as one of Baitullah’s “close and trusted commanders.” Senior Taliban leaders were expected to attend Khwaz’s funeral to pay their respects.
Reports from Pakistan indicated Sangeen and Qari Hussain may have been killed in the strike. But an aide to Sangeen said his commander was not in attendance. Qari Hussain spoke to the media and confirmed he was alive. Baitullah has not been reported killed, and he is thought to be in Mir Ali to sit out the military’s operation in South Waziristan.
Qari Hussain is a senior lieutenant to Baitullah, and is believed to be his successor. He runs suicide training camps in Spinkai, where he indoctrinates young boys between 9 and 12 years old. These children have been used to conduct some of the most deadly attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The military destroyed one of these camps during a brief operation in January 2008, but Qari reopened the camp months later.
Qari Hussain is also described as a leading ideologue for the Taliban. He has a large following among Arab, Uzbek, and Afghan fighters.
Sangeen, who is also known as Fateh, has been a major target of the US military in Afghanistan. He serves as a senior lieutenant and military commander to Siraj Haqqani in eastern Afghanistan. The US military said Sangeen planned and coordinated the movement of al Qaeda senior leaders and hundreds of their foot soldiers from Pakistan to Afghanistan through the Spreah district.
The US military targeted Sangeen one month ago during a raid on what was described as an “enemy encampment” in the Wor Mamay district in the eastern province of Paktika near the Pakistani border. US and Afghan forces fought a pitched battle at the Haqqani Network fort, which was reinforced with fighting positions, bunkers, and tunnels. During the assault, 29 Haqqani Network fighters, including six suicide bombers, were killed, but Sangeen slipped the net.
In December 2007, the US military reported that Sangeen was killed during a raid, but the US later found out he survived the attack. The US military had previously offered a $20,000 reward for information that could lead to his capture.