US kills 14 in strike on Taliban training camp in South Waziristan

The US has killed 14 Taliban fighters in the latest airstrike in Pakistan’s lawless tribal agency of South Waziristan.

One or more Predator strike aircraft, or possibly the more advanced Reaper, targeted a Taliban training camp in the town of Zangikhel in the Kani Karam area of South Waziristan. Three or more Hellfire missiles are said to have been launched at the training camp. The camp was run by Umer Barqi, a local tribal leader.

Eight Taliban fighters were reported killed in the initial strike and four more died while being transported to the hospital, Geo News reported. Residents told Pajhwok Afghan News that 14 Taliban fighters were killed. Five more Taliban fighters were said to have been wounded.

There are no reports of senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders killed at this time; all of those killed are reported to have been “local Taliban.”

The strike took place just three miles south of the town of Ladha, where Taliban leaders say they have been meeting to discuss strategy to battle the military, which has attempted to blockade the region and has launched airstrikes against Taliban hideouts in an effort to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

The Pakistani government asserted that the Taliban have been meeting in Ladha to decide who will replace Baitullah, who is thought to have been killed in the Aug. 5 strike by US Predators. Baitullah’s wife and several Taliban fighters were killed in the attack on his father-in-law’s compound. Interior Minister Rehman Malik subsequently claimed that Taliban commanders Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud killed each other during a shura meeting to decide on Baitullah’s heir.

But both Waliur and Hakeemullah have since confirmed they were alive and have spoken to the press. They denied that Baitullah had been killed and that a shura had been held to decide on his successor. They also denied any infighting in the group.

Second strike this month

Today’s attack in South Waziristan is only the second strike in August as well as the second since July 17. During the first 17 days of July, the US conducted seven airstrikes in Pakistan.

The US has shifted the focus of its covert air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas almost exclusively to targeting Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. Of the 33 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 24 have taken place in South Waziristan.

Baitullah Mehsud’s territory has been hit 16 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. Nine of the last 11 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 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 after peace agreements with Mullah Nazir and North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar broke down. 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].

The military has insisted that the agreements with Nazir and Bahadar are intact, but both Taliban leaders have recently attacked Pakistani security forces. Just yesterday Bahadar’s spokesman claimed that Taliban fighters killed 32 troops during an ambush in North Waziristan. The military claimed 11 Taliban fighters were killed during counterattacks.

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:

US kills 14 in strike on Taliban training camp in South Waziristan

Aug 11, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud’s wife killed in Predator attack

Aug. 5, 2009

US Predator strikes in North Waziristan, kills 5

July 17, 2009

US strikes Taliban communications center in South Waziristan

July 10, 2009

US kills 25 Taliban in second Predator strike in South Waziristan

July 8, 2009

US Predator strike on Taliban camp kills 8 in South Waziristan

July 8, 2009

US Predator strike kills 14 Taliban in South Waziristan

July 7, 2009

13 Taliban fighters killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan

July 3, 2009

Scores of Taliban killed in second US strike in South Waziristan

June 23, 2009

Six killed in US Predator attack in South Waziristan

June 23, 2009

US strikes target Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan

June 18, 2009

US kills five in South Waziristan strike

June 14, 2009

US strikes Taliban, al Qaeda in North Waziristan

May 16, 2009

US strikes again in South Waziristan

May 12, 2009

US strike targets Baitullah Mehsud territory in South Waziristan

May 9, 2009

US strike kills 10 Taliban in South Waziristan

April 29, 2009

US airstrike targets Taliban training camp in South Waziristan

April 19, 2009

US Predator kills four in South Waziristan strike

April 8, 2009

US strikes Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

April 4, 2009

US launches first strike in Arakzai tribal agency

April 1, 2009

Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safe house in North Waziristan

March 26, 2009

US airstrike kills 8 in Baitullah Mehsud’s hometown

March 25, 2009

US launches second strike outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas

March 15, 2009

US missile strike in Kurram agency kills 14

March 12, 2009

US airstrike kills 8 in South Waziristan

March 1, 2009

US airstrike in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal agency kills 30

Feb. 16, 2009

US Predator strike in South Waziristan kills 25

Feb. 14, 2009

US strikes al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan

Jan. 23, 2009

US hits South Waziristan in second strike

Jan. 2, 2009

US kills 4 al Qaeda operatives in South Waziristan strike

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.



  • Viliger says:

    The world is wisening up to Waziristan…..or as Ravi @orbat would say…to Wazoo…

  • zotz says:

    What do you think of this report? Is it credible?
    New spokesman of Pakistani Taliban confirms Mehsud dead: TV
    ISLAMABAD, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) — The Pakistani Taliban has confirmed on Monday that the group’s chief, Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike on Wednesday, and announced a 15-day mourning period, a private TV channel reported Tuesday.
    The reports said the newly-appointed spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Azam Tariq told the channel that the TTP would observe a ceasefire during mourning period. He said a successor to Mehsud had not been chosen yet.

  • Jim says:

    I support the air strikes which target leaders. One thing I think is curious is that many of these targets are “training camps” which have purportedly trained thousands, yet usually only 5 – 15 people are killed when 2 – 4 missles strike and destroy the targeted compound.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    The short answer is no. I suspect when the smoke clears, more than a few opportunist Taliban will be searching for their heads. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • Kevin P says:

    Jim: these aren’t the old style multi-acre training camps that would take multiple Tomahawks to flatten. Because of drone campaign anything that looks large and organized is going to be hit.
    The “camps” now are single buildings or small compounds of a few buildings (up to four buildings in this case with 4 Hellfire used — perhaps fewer).
    See the story of the Bryant Neal Vinas (the Long Island Railroad US AQ who was captured in Pakistan (by Pak troops working with CIA) and turned) and the Belgian AQ team too. They were all put up in small safe house that were the “training camps”. They were not permitted to go outside. This is not the old days of Fort Dix sized camps.
    See the links to the CNN articles here

  • Cordell says:

    As reported this evening by PBS news, the Taliban are claiming that the above strike hit a house and killed 6 civilians. It appears that Taliban veracity may be waning as the organization comes under increasing stress. Clearly, the constant threat of being killed by a UAV air strike without any warning must cause a great deal of anxiety among the Taliban’s leaders — a modern-day sword of Damocles. One might even suspect such psychological stress as the main cause of Baitullah’s diabetes given his young age and relatively normal weight.
    I can see why you keep pulling your hair out trying to ascertain the truth from these sources. At least you have a good excuse for your lack of hair: your follicles are casualties in the line of duty. I can only blame bad genes.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/12/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Render says:

    “The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently – like the effect of a fog or moonshine – gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.”
    -Carl von Clauswitz
    The tempo of decision making at the tactical level is much greater than at other levels, increasing the risk of escalating ambiguity as assumptions build and resources are allocated based on those assumptions. The greater the tempo, the greater the risk, the higher the ambiguity levels. So forth and so on…
    A subtle reminder…
    “The comments section is intended to provide a forum to discuss and debate current posts. The Long War Journal makes no warranty to the accuracy of readers’ comments, nor do we condone or affirm the opinions of reader-based comments. Discuss the issue at hand and do not go off topic. The comments section is not a place for a political discussion. Please be courteous to your fellow commenters. Personal attacks on the editors, authors, or readers of The Long War Journal sites will not be permitted. Please refer to current and former elected officials and public leaders respectfully. Offensive language, cursing (including replacing letters with characters), racial or ethnic slurs, and sexist remarks will not be tolerated. In the interest of keeping the comments section readable, please post a link to any articles, and excerpt the portions of the article that make your points. Any comments with the full article will be edited.”
    Fer cryin out loud, it’s right there at the top of the comment entry window in black and…greyish sorta bluish…what color is that anyway?


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