Unmanned Predator aircraft operated by the US struck inside South Waziristan in Baitullah Mehsud’s tribal territories. The strike marks the fourth attack in South Waziristan since Jun. 14 after a one-month hiatus in the Predator campaign.
Three strike aircraft are reported to have fired Hellfire missiles at a compound in the Ladha region of South Waziristan, a region run by Pakistan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. Six people have been reported killed in airstrike. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed or wounded at this time.
Today’s Predator attack occurs as the Pakistani military is gearing up for a major offensive against Baitullah’s forces in South Waziristan. The opening phase of the ground offensive has begun as Pakistan troops are working to secure the Wana-Jandola road and have also moved artillery forward to pound Taliban positions. The Air Force, Army, and Frontier Corps have been pounding Taliban positions in Baitullah’s tribal areas. The military claimed scores of Taliban fighters have been killed in these strikes.
South Waziristan is a major focus of the US air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Of the 23 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 15 of them took place in South Waziristan. Eight of this year’s attacks took place in Taliban leader Mullah Nazir’s territories; seven took place in Baitullah’s tribal areas. Both Nazir and Baitullah host al Qaeda training camps.
Last week, the US carried out three Predator strikes against strongholds run by Baitullah and Taliban chieftain Mullah Nazir. The Pakistani Air Force also launched attacks against Baitullah’s strongholds.
These attacks coincided with an important meeting between Baitullah and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders to discuss the military’s operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Siraj Haqqani, Abu Yahya al Libi, and Abdul Haq. The US appears to have targeted al Qaeda’s senior leadership as it met with Baitullah.
The strike in Ladha is the fourth US air incursion inside Pakistan since June 14. Prior to the June 14 Predator attack against Baitullah in his stronghold of Makeen, there had been a month-long lull since the US last targeted Taliban or al Qaeda leaders or camps in Pakistan. The US has been under pressure to halt the attacks due to civilian casualties. The Pakistani government denounces the attacks while it secretly supports the operations.
The US is set to exceed last year’s total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan.
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 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:
June 23, 2009
June 18, 2009
June 14, 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.