For the first time in a month, the US conducted a Predator airstrike inside Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies.
An unmanned Predator strike aircraft killed at least five “militants” in an attack on a vehicle in the Ladha region in South Waziristan, a tribal leader said.
“The missile destroyed the vehicle and I saw three bodies lying next to it,” tribal leader Habibullah Mehsud told Reuters. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed.
Today’s attack is the first inside Pakistan since May 16, when Predators struck a vehicle and a madrassa in the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali, a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi. Twenty-five Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are reported to have been killed and several more were wounded.
Today’s strike is the twentieth inside Pakistan this year. Twelve of this year’s airstrikes have taken place in South Waziristan, four were in North Waziristan, two were in Kurram, one was in Arakzai, and one more was in Jani Khel in Bannu, where al Qaeda is thought to have hosted its Shura Majlis, or executive council.
But the attacks have tapered off since mid-May after a controversy over the effectiveness of the US air campaign. Last year, the US conducted a total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan.
Ladha a known Taliban and al Qaeda hub
Ladha is a known stronghold of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. Today’s attack is the third in the Ladha region since October 2008. The area is known to host a joint Taliban and al Qaeda training camp.
In an airstrike on October 16, 2008, the US killed Khalid Habib, the commander of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, al Qaeda’s paramilitary force in Pakistan’s northwest and Afghanistan. Habib was among six Taliban and al Qaeda operatives killed in the airstrike on a safe house in the village of Sam in the Ladha region of South Waziristan. Habib has since been replaced by Abdallah Sa’id al Libi.
Earlier this year, a strike on Feb. 14 on a training camp in the town of Malik Khel in the Ladha region of South Waziristan killed 25 terrorists, most of them from Uzbekistan.
Of the 60 known Predator strikes and other raids inside Pakistan since December 2005, ten of these took place in Baitullah Mehsud’s tribal areas. Although The New York Times and other news outlets reported that the Predator strike on Feb. 14 was the first such attack against Baitullah Mehsud and that this and a subsequent attack signaled an expansion of the air war, the reports are incorrect. There were in fact six US strikes in Baitullah’s tribal areas between March 2006 and January 2009.
One of the earlier recorded US attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas took place against al Qaeda’s training camp for the Black Guard, al Qaeda’s elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, in Danda Saidgai. Al Qaeda commander Imad Asad, the commander for the Black Guard, was killed along with scores of al Qaeda fighters during a US special operations assault on a military complex that housed hundreds of foreign fighters and served as a training center.
Last summer, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that there were 157 training camps in Pakistan’s northwest. This number did not include camps in Baluchistan province, which also borders Afghanistan.
Strike occurs while tensions rise in South Waziristan
Today’s attack took place just one day after the Pakistani Air Force launched airstrikes in Baitullah’s home town of Makeen. Four jets pounded Taliban positions in Makeen. The military claimed 30 Taliban fighters were killed, although the casualties have yet to be confirmed. Local officials claimed six civilians were killed in the strikes.
Pakistani military officials are saying that an offensive against the Taliban and al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan is only weeks away. The military is currently battling the Taliban in the Jani Khel and Baka Khel regions in Bannu, which sits astride the main route, the Miramshah-Bannu Road, that would be used for a Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan.
Last week, a Taliban force of about 400 men attacked military outposts manned by the Frontier Corps in Jandola, Chakmalai, and Siplatoi in South Waziristan. The military said the assault was repelled and 22 Taliban fighters and three troops were killed during the fighting. The Taliban have stepped up attacks against the military in South Waziristan since the military launched an operation to retake the Swat Valley back from the Taliban. The military claims that more than 1,300 Taliban fighters and more than 90 soldiers have been killed during the operation, which has been underway for nearly six weeks.
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:
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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.