The US may have came close to killing Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in an airstrike on a compound in South Waziristan today.
Unmanned US strike aircraft fired two Hellfire missiles at a compound owned by Ikramuddin Mehsud, Baitullah’s father-in-law, in the village of Zanghra, near Baitullah’s home town of Makeen in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan.
Baitullah’s second wife and two Taliban fighters were killed in the attack; four children were reported to have been wounded. Baitullah was not killed in the attack, his second wife’s cousin told Reuters.
It was thought Baitullah was visiting his wife when the strike occurred, a US intelligence official with knowledge of the air campaign in Pakistan told The Long War Journal.
First strike in Pakistan in 19 days
Today’s attack in South Waziristan is the first since July 17, when US aircraft killed five Taliban fighters in a region controlled by North Waziristan Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar.
The US has shifted the focus of its covert air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas almost exclusively against Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. Of the 32 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 23 of them have taken place in South Waziristan.
Baitullah Mehsud’s territory has been hit 15 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. Eight of the last 10 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 US has taken aim at Baitullah several times and may have came close to killing him in late June. On June 23, US Predators killed a mid-level Taliban commander loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, then followed up with an attack on his funeral procession that same day.
The second strike on June 23 killed 83 Taliban fighters and civilians, according to reports. Baitullah, along with Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior commander in Baitullah’s network, and Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a field commander in the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, were the targets of the June 23 strikes. The three Taliban leaders survived the attack.
In mid-June, the US launched a flurry of Predator strikes in South Waziristan that 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, Abdul Haq, and two senior deputies of Mullah Abdullah Zakir. The US appears to have targeted al Qaeda’s senior leadership as it met with Baitullah.
The Pakistani government and military have identified Baitullah as the number one enemy of the state. On June 20, the military announced it had launched an operation to defeat Baitullah and would move into South Waziristan in force.
But the military has refused to enter South Waziristan, since the breakdown of peace agreements with Mullah Nazir and Bahadar. The military has instead signaled it intends to conduct a punitive operation by cutting off the region and pounding Baitullah’s camps with air and artillery strikes [see LWJ report, South Waziristan offensive ‘punitive,’ not counterinsurgency].
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 also has 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 five 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’s 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:
Aug. 5, 2009
July 17, 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.
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