An unmanned US Predator aircraft fired missiles at the Haqqani Network in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal area of North Waziristan.
Two Hellfire missiles struck in the town of Darpa Khel near Miramshah, a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network. Twelve Taliban fighters from Afghanistan were reported killed, but no high value Taliban or al Qaeda targets have been reported killed at this time.
A senior Haqqani Network commander and an al Qaeda operative were the targets of the strike, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The official would not identify the names of the leaders targeted.
The strike in Danda Darpa Khel is the third in the town since September 2008. The Haqqani Network has a strong presence in the town. The Haqqanis’ madrassa, known as the Manba Ulom, is in the town of Danda Darpa Khel. In the two strikes last year, the Manba Ulom compound was struck both times.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks against Pakistani military convoys, bases, and checkpoints in North Waziristan. Even though the Taliban have conducted several suicide attacks and ambushes against military convoys moving through the region, the military has only retaliated, usually with air and artillery strikes. The Pakistani military continues to insist that a 16-month-old peace agreement with North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar is intact.
Third strike this month
Today’s attack in North Waziristan is only the third strike in August as well as the third since July 17. The last attack took place on Aug. 11 in South Waziristan. 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 Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. Of the 34 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 24 have taken place in South Waziristan.
The US and Pakistani governments believe that Baitullah was killed in the Aug. 5 strike but have not provided evidence to back up the claim. The Taliban have insisted that Baitullah is alive but suffering from an illness. Just yesterday, Faqir Mohammed, Baitullah’s deputy, temporarily took control of the Taliban.
The US is well on its way to exceeding last year’s total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan.
Danda Darpa Khel and the Haqqani Network
The Manba Ulom madrassa was established by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the family patriarch and renowned mujahedeen commander who has close ties with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. In the 1980s, the madrassa was used to train mujahedeen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Haqqani family used the Manba Ulom madrassa as a training center and meeting place for senior al Qaeda leaders.
The Pakistani government closed the madrassa down in 2002, but it was reopened in 2004. Since then, Taliban fighters and members of al Qaeda’s network have been known to take shelter in the madrassa compound.
The madrassa serves as the headquarters for the Haqqani Network, while the forward operating command center in Afghanistan is located in the village of Zambar in the northern Sabari district of Khost province, Afghanistan. The network is active in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, and Kabul, and provides support to Taliban networks in Kunar, Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces.
The Haqqanis have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence, or ISI. These relationships have allowed the Haqqani Network to survive and thrive in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of North Waziristan, and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces.
Siraj Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin, has risen in prominence over the past year. He is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan and to be the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan.
Siraj is considered dangerous not only for his ties with the Afghan Taliban, but also because of his connections with al Qaeda’s central leadership, which extend all the way to Osama bin Laden. On March 25, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.
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 unit 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. 20, 2009
Aug. 11, 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.