Bajaur Taliban leader Faqir Mohammed.
Unmanned aircraft operated by the US attacked a meeting of the Bajaur Taliban, killing 27 Islamist extremists. The attack came close to killing one of the senior-most Taliban commanders in Pakistan.
The strikes, likely carried out by Predators or Reapers, struck underground bunkers in Damadola in the Mamond region in the northern tribal agency of Bajaur. The Taliban were holding a regional shura, or council, with members from Dir, Swat, and Mohmand in attendance. Al Qaeda members were also present.
The attack killed 17 Taliban members and 11 “foreigners,” according to The Nation. At this time, no senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed.
Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was at the meeting but left 10 minutes prior to the strike, according to a report at Dawn. Two of Faqir’s relatives are thought to have been killed in the strike. A US intelligence official involved in the covert program confirmed Faqir’s presence at the meeting.
The official, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the program, said that he believes Faqir was tipped off about the strike, just minutes before it was executed, by pro-jihadi elements within Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency.
“We’ve seen Taliban and al Qaeda leaders leave meetings minutes before the hit far too often for this to be a coincidence,” the official said.
Damadola and the Mamond region are known Taliban strongholds in Bajaur. Al Qaeda is known to have operated a command and control center in Bajaur for directing operations in northeastern Afghanistan.
Since January 2006, the US has struck four times in Bajaur; all of the attacks have hit targets in the Mamond region. Two of the attacks targeted Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command. Zawahiri is known to be close to Faqir.
Today’s attack takes place as the Pakistani military is conducting operations against the Taliban in the Mamond region in Bajaur. Earlier this year, the military claimed the Taliban were “defeated” in Bajaur and in the neighboring Mohmand tribal agency during operations in the area that ended in March, but the Taliban have remained entrenched.
Bajaur airstrike is first outside Waziristan in six months
The US airstrike in Bajaur is the first outside the Waziristan tribal agencies since the April 1 attack that targeted a high-level meeting at a compound in Arakzai run by Hakeemullah Mehsud. Among the 12 extremists killed in the strike was Abdullah Hamas al Filistini, a senior al Qaeda trainer.
Since April, the US has focused much of its efforts on the networks run by Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and the Haqqani Network and Abu Kasha al Iraqi in North Waziristan. The US succeeded in killing Baitullah, the former leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in an early August strike in South Waziristan.
Today’s attack is the third this month, and the ninth since the beginning of September. Seven of the nine strikes have taken place in North Waziristan.
The US has carried out 45 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”].
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:
Oct. 24, 2009
Oct. 21, 2009
Oct. 14, 2009
Sept. 30, 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.”
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