US airstrike targets Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

Unmanned US strike aircraft killed nine Haqqani Network fighters in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

The strike took place in the Datta Khel region in North Waziristan. Al Qaeda’s Shadow Army is based in Datta Khel.

The unmanned aircraft, likely Predators or their more dangerous cousins the Reapers, fired three missiles at a compound run by the Haqqani Network. “Foreign fighters,” a term used to describe Arab al Qaeda members, are also known to use the compound, AFP reported.

At this time, no senior Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, or Taliban commanders have been reported killed. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on the target of the strike.

Today’s strike is the first in 10 days and breaks a lull in US attacks after a flurry from Dec. 31, 2009, to Jan. 19. There were 11 airstrikes in that timeframe, and all of them took place in North Waziristan.

The US has launched more airstrikes in January 2010 than in any other month since the program began in 2004. Prior to this month, October 2008 saw the most attacks, with 10 recorded.

The Taliban have claimed to have shot down two Predators over the past week in North Waziristan. The Taliban reportedly rewarded the tribesman who shot down a drone, giving him a car.

Background on the Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network is based in North Waziristan and across the border in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost provinces in eastern Afghanistan. The network is also active in the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, Kabul, Kunar, Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar.

The Haqqanis have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services 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 family patriarch 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, 2009, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.

Al Qaeda has promoted Siraj to serve on the military shura, or council, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Siraj is known to mediate disputes between Taliban groups in Pakistan and is also credited with the group’s virtual control of the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktika, and Paktia.

Background on the recent strikes in Pakistan

The US air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas has been stepped up since Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, aided the Dec. 30, 2009, suicide attack by a Jordanian al Qaeda operative at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province. The bomber killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer. Hakeemullah appeared on a martyrdom tape with the suicide bomber that was released shortly after the attack.

The US is actively hunting Hakeemullah, intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.

The air campaign has had success over the past two months. Since Dec. 8, 2009, the air campaign in Pakistan has killed two senior al Qaeda leaders, a senior Taliban commander, two senior al Qaeda operatives, and a wanted Palestinian terrorist who was allied with al Qaeda.

Already this year, the US has killed Mansur al Shami, an al Qaeda ideologue and aide to al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu Yazid; and Haji Omar Khan, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan. Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, the Abu Nidal Organization operative who participated in killing 22 hostages during the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am flight 73, is thought to have been killed in the Jan. 9 airstrike. And Abdul Basit Usman, an Abu Sayyaf operative with a $1 million US bounty for information leading to his capture, was killed in a strike on Jan. 14.

In December 2009, the US killed Abdullah Said al Libi, the top commander of the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army; Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Lashkar al Zil; and Saleh al Somali, the leader of al Qaeda’s external network [see LWJ report, “Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010” for the full list].

US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:

US airstrike targets Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

Jan. 29, 2010

US airstrike in North Waziristan kills 6

Jan. 19, 2010

Latest US airstrike in Pakistan kills 20

Jan. 17, 2010

US strikes kill 11 in North Waziristan

Jan. 15, 2010

US airstrike hits Taliban camp in North Waziristan

Jan. 14, 2010

US airstrike kills 4 Taliban fighters in North Waziristan

Jan. 9, 2010

US airstrike kills 5 in North Waziristan

Jan. 8, 2010

US kills 17 in latest North Waziristan strike

Jan. 6, 2010

US airstrike kills 2 Taliban fighters in Mir Ali in Pakistan

Jan. 3, 2010

US kills 3 Taliban in second strike in North Waziristan

Jan. 1, 2010

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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