The US conducted two airstrikes in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan today.
The first strike took place in Sararogha in South Waziristan. An unmanned Predator or Reaper strike aircraft fired two missiles at a compound operated by Ifran Shamankhel Mehsud, a local Taliban leader, Dawn reported.
Ifran, who is said to be close to Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the new leader of the Taliban in South Waziristan, is thought to have survived the attack, but five Taliban fighters were reported killed and six more were wounded. The Taliban immediately cordoned off the area and began recovering the dead; more fighters may be trapped in the rubble.
The Sararogha region is under the control of Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who took control of the group’s branch in South Waziristan after Baitullah Mehsud was killed in an airstrike in August.
A report indicates that three of those killed may be Uzbek fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or the offshoot Islamic Jihad Union. The Islamic Jihad Union recently released a videotape showing a German “village” in Waziristan under the control of the group. German Muslims play a large role in the Islamic Jihad Union.
The second attack took place in the village of Danda Darpa Khel, a village just outside Miramshah in North Waziristan. Three people were killed and several more were wounded, according to Geo News.
The Haqqani family runs the Manba Ulom madrassa in Danda Darpa Khel. The US has conducted several strikes on or near the madrassa since the fall of 2008. The last attack was on Sept. 24; between eight and 12 Haqqani Network fighters were reported killed in the strike.
The US has shifted to targeting the dangerous Haqqani Network in North Waziristan after pounding the Taliban in South Waziristan during July and August. Today’s strikes in North and South Waziristan put the number of attacks at six for the month. Five of the six strikes this month have targeted the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan.
The US has killed four senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in cross-border strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of August. Three of those killed were killed during attacks in tribal regions run by the Haqqani Network. Ilyas Kashmiri, the operations commander of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami and the operations chief of Brigade 313, and Najmuddin Jalolov, the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, a breakaway faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, were killed in a strike on Sept. 14. Mustafa al Jaziri, a senior military commander for al Qaeda who sat on al Qaeda’s military shura, was killed in an attack on Sept. 8. And Baitullah Mehsud, the overall leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was killed in a strike on Aug. 5 in South Waziristan.
The US has carried out 41 airstrikes inside Pakistan so far this year. In all of 2008, 36 strikes were carried out. Since the US ramped up cross-border attacks in 2008, 14 al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed [see LWJ report, “US airstrikes alone cannot defeat al Qaeda”].
The US is considering switching from a counterinsurgency-centric strategy aimed at defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan to a counterterrorism strategy targeting al Qaeda’s network in Pakistan using unmanned airstrikes and covert operations by special operations commandos [see LWJ report, “Counterterrorism at the expense of counterinsurgency will doom Afghanistan and Pakistan: US officials”].
Background on Danda Darpa Khel and the Haqqani Network
The Manba Ulom madrassa was established by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the 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 few years. 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 summer 2008, 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. From 2004 through 2007, there were only 10 recorded strikes.
US attacks inside Pakistan during 2009:
Sept. 29, 2009
Sept. 24, 2009
Sept. 14, 2009
Sept. 8, 2009
Sept. 7, 2009
Aug. 27, 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.