The US conducted yet another Predator airstrike against Baitullah Mehsud’s forces in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency in South Waziristan.
The latest strike targeted a Taliban communications center in the town of Painda Khel, according to the Associated Press. A US intelligence official contacted by The Long War Journal confirmed the strike.
Three Taliban fighters were reported killed in the Painda Khel airstrike. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda fighters were reported killed at this time.
Today’s airstrike is the fourth this week. All of the attacks took place in Baitullah Mehsud’s tribal areas. Two days ago, the US launched a pair of strikes on a Taliban convoy and a training camp in South Waziristan. More than 50 Taliban fighters and several al Qaeda operatives were reported killed in the pair of attacks.
The day prior, a strike on a training camp killed 12 Taliban fighters and four al Qaeda operatives. Kifayatullah Anikhel, a close relative of Baitullah Mehsud and a senior Taliban commander, was reported killed in the attack.
South Waziristan is a major focus of the US air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Of the 30 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 22 of them took place in South Waziristan.
Baitullah Mehsud’s territory has been hit 14 times and Mullah Nazir’s areas have been hit eight times. Both Nazir and Baitullah host al Qaeda training camps and shelter senior leaders of the terror group. Seven of the last nine attacks have targeted Baitullah’s camps and safe houses.
The US is well on its way to exceeding last year’s total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Air force has also been launching airstrikes in South Waziristan. On July 9, 12 Taliban fighters were reported killed during airstrikes on Taliban strongholds in the towns Upper Kani Karam, Mordaralgat, Kacha Langar Khel, Momikaram, Zagawoi, and Ladha.
The Pakistani military said a ground offensive is in the works, but there has been little movement on the ground in South Waziristan since June 20.
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:
July 10, 2009
July 8, 2009
July 8, 2009
July 7, 2009
July 3, 2009
June 23, 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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.