US airstrike targets al Qaeda in North Waziristan

US aircraft have struck at al Qaeda in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

Unmanned aircraft, likely Predators or Reapers, operated by the US targeted a compound run by al Qaeda operatives in the village of Spalaga in the Mir Ali region. Pakistani intelligence officials put the number killed at three. No senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror group leaders have been reported killed.

An airstrike on Sept. 7 in the Mir Ali region was thought to have killed Mustafa al Jaziri, a senior military commander for al Qaeda and a member of its military shura; and Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational commander of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), an al Qaeda-linked terror group that operates in Pakistan, Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan. US intelligence believes Mustafa was indeed killed in the attack, but Kashmiri later surfaced in an interview with the Asia Times.

The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an Iraqi national who is also known as Abu Akash. He has close links to the Taliban, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in January 2007. He serves as the key link between al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, and the Taliban. His responsibilities have expanded to assisting in facilitating al Qaeda’s external operations against the West, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October 2008.

Today’s attack is only the second this month, and the eighth since the beginning of September. Seven of the eight strikes have taken place in North Waziristan; three have targeted Abu Kasha’s territories, and four have targeted the Haqqani Network.

The US has carried out 44 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, 15 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”].

The attack takes place as the Pakistani military is on the offensive against Hakeemullah Mehsud’s faction of the Taliban in South Waziristan. The Pakistani Army cut a deal with Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan and Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan. The military agreed to halt attacks against those Taliban factions and allow them to use the roads in exchange for a Taliban promise to allow military convoys to pass and maintain neutrality while the fighting is ongoing. It is unclear what the impact, if any, the airstrike will have on the Taliban’s views on the peace agreements.

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 the summer of 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:

US airstrike targets al Qaeda in North Waziristan

Oct. 21, 2009

US kills 4 in strike on Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

Oct. 14, 2009

US strike kills Haqqani Network and foreign fighters in North Waziristan

Sept. 30, 2009

US aircraft strike in North and South Waziristan

Sept. 29, 2009

US airstrike targets Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

Sept. 24, 2009

Two al Qaeda leaders reported killed in North Waziristan strike

Sept. 14, 2009

12 killed in second US strike in North Waziristan

Sept. 8, 2009

Senior al Qaeda leaders reported killed in North Waziristan strike

Sept. 7, 2009

US strikes Taliban compound in South Waziristan, 8 killed

Aug. 27, 2009

US Predators target the Haqqanis in North Waziristan

Aug. 20, 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 5 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.



  • AMac says:

    From this armchair, this looks like a big deal. The linked Dawn article puts the targeted village in Haqqani Network territory.
    If this was indeed a US strike on “good Taliban” (from the point of view of the Pakistani military and ISI), the chessboard of the Pakistani military fight with “bad Taliban” in South Waziristan just got more complicated.
    * Will either “good Taliban” group accuse Pakistan of complicity in the strike, and end their noninterference pledge? Even if “good Taliban” are convinced by Pakistani denials, will they cancel the truce rather than be pwned by a good cop/bad cop routine?
    * Will the Pakistani military offer even more concessions to “good Taliban” to keep them more or less on the sidelines? Will they feel that the US is dragging them into a game of “let’s you and him fight!”?
    * Did the US plot this raid in full knowledge of these complications? Because of, or in spite of? Are resulting strategic changes calculated to benefit the US (vs. Karzai), or to tip the scales as far as McChyrstal vs. Obama?

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/21/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • flyingcarpet says:

    Top Qaeda operative among 3 killed in drone attack
    Islamabad, Oct 21 (PTI) A top al-Qaeda operative of Arab origin was among three militants killed today in a US drone attack in Pakistan’s lawless North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
    The drone attack at Spalga village near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal agency, killed al-Qaeda operative Abu Musa al-Misri, Dawn News channel quoted sources as saying.
    The two others killed in the attack were local militants.
    Several other persons were believed to be buried under the rubble of the house targeted by the drone, news channels reported.
    Reports said Abu Musa, who was of Arab origin, had been active in an area used by the Taliban to prepare for suicide attacks.
    There were also reports that he could have been killed in an accidental explosion while preparing a bomb.

  • jayc says:

    Pakistani newspaper Dawn is reporting that top Al Qaeda operative Mustafa al-Yazid, whose nom de guerre is Abu Al-Masri, was killed during the recent US airstrike in North Waziristan.

  • Rosario says:

    The taliban are really terrorized by these strikes, according former hostage NYT reporter David Rohde:
    “It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying presence. Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be immolated without warning.”
    “The strikes also created a paranoia among the Taliban. They believed that a network of local informants guided the missiles. Innocent civilians were rounded up, accused of working as American spies and then executed.”
    Imagine trying to get some sleep with that buzzing noise approaching you on a dark night?

  • Bill Crispin says:

    Bill, Where is Spalaga in relationship to Mir Ali. I havent’ seen a single story anywhere that attempts to locate this village.

  • Civy says:

    With the Pak Army occupying S Waziristan, the battle has moved to N Waziristan. A more NATO-favorable battlefield, as its N-S valley and very tall mountains effectively prohibit infiltration into Afghanistan and Pakistan. This also allows us to concentrate our efforts on a smaller area.
    I have to believe the amateurish attempt, a plan perhaps hastily thrown together, to blow up an airline on Christmas day, in order to put more emphasis on Yemen, is an attempt by Al Queda to take some of the pressure off of N Waziristan.


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