The US military killed 18 terrorists during two airstrikes in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The first airstrike occurred in Datta Khel, a region near the main town of Miramshah. A Hellfire missile fired by either a Predator or a Reaper unmanned aircraft slammed into a vehicle parked outside a home. Two insurgents were reported killed in the attack.
The second strike took place in the towns of Degan and Ambor Shaga, also the the Datta Khel region. Five or six unmanned strike aircraft fired upwards of 10 Hellfires at Haqqani Network hideouts. According to Reuters, the strikes targeted “a cave complex, a compound and a vehicle.”
According to Geo News, missiles were fired as people came to recover bodies from the attack site. Twelve insurgents were reported killed in the attack, Pakistani officials told Reuters. The Associated Press claimed 15 were killed in this second strike, including seven “foreigners,” a term to describe Arab or other members of al Qaeda.
Zuhaib al Zahibi, a commander in al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, was among seven Arab “foreigners” reported killed in the attack.
The towns are in a region administered by the Haqqani Network. The Haqqani family is led by Jalaluddin and his son Siraj, who serves as the military commander. The network is based in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has the backing of the Pakistani military and its intelligence service. The Haqqanis have strong ties to al Qaeda. Siraj Haqqani is believed to be a member of al Qaeda’s military shura, or council, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
The US has zeroed in on the Haqqani Network since killing Baitullah Mehsud in an Aug. 5 strike in South Waziristan. Baitullah was the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Since the Aug. 5 strike, 13 of the 17 reported airstrikes have taken place in North Waziristan, while the other four were in South Waziristan. Eight of the 13 attacks in North Waziristan occurred in territory administered by the Haqqani Network.
Last week, the US killed Saleh al Somali in an airstrike in Haqqani territory in North Waziristan. As al Qaeda’s external operations chief, al Somali was tasked with directing attacks outside of the Afghan-Pakistan theater.
Al Qaeda’s external operations network has been the prime target of the covert US air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The US has targeted al Qaeda and Taliban camps designated to train operatives holding foreign passports, while the leadership of the external operations branch has also been hit hard.
Al Somali is the third external operations commander to have been killed since May 2008, when Mustafa al Jazairi was killed in a Predator strike in the town of Damadola in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency. The US killed Osama al Kini, Jazairi’s successor, and his senior deputy Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan in an airstrike in the town of Karikot in South Waziristan on New Year’s Day, 2009.
So far this year, the US has carried out 49 airstrikes inside Pakistan. In all of 2008, 36 strikes were carried out. Since the US ramped up cross-border attacks in August 2008, 15 senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed [see LWJ report, “US airstrikes alone cannot defeat al Qaeda”].
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.