Eleven terrorists, including two “foreigners,” were killed in the latest US airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Unmanned US aircraft struck a Taliban training camp in the Datta Khel region in North Waziristan twice today. The second strike hit the Taliban as they attempted to recover bodies from the first strike.
“Two foreigners died in the initial attack,” a senior Pakistani security official told AFP. “Five militants were killed in the previous attack and six in this attack.” Dawn later put the number killed at 17 and said the death toll could go as high as 25.
The identity of the foreigners, a term used to describe Arab members of al Qaeda, has not been disclosed. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed.
The Taliban were using a mud-brick fort in the village of Sanzali to carry out training. The fort was run by North Waziristan Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The Pakistani military signed another peace agreement with Bahadar this year.
Today’s strike is the third this year and the fourth in one week. It is also the fourth strike since an al Qaeda/Haqqani Network suicide bomber killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer, in an attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province. The outpost was used to gather intelligence for strikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The US has ramped up the strikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas since August 2008. There were 53 strikes in 2009, 36 in 2008, and 10 from 2004-2007 combined [See LWJ report, “Analysis: US air campaign in Pakistan heats up” for more information.]
North Waziristan has become the focal point of the US air campaign in Pakistan. Since the Aug. 5 strike in South Waziristan that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, 18 of the 22 reported airstrikes have taken place in North Waziristan, while the other four were in South Waziristan.
The Datta Khel region in South Waziristan is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied Central Asian jihadi groups. The US has conducted multiple strikes in the Datta Khel region, which is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network. The latest strike in Datta Khel, on Dec. 17, 2009, targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike.
Datta Khel borders the Jani Khel region in the settled district of Bannu. The Jani Khel region has long been a strategic meeting place and safe haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Jani Khel was identified as the headquarters for al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis back in 2007. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, has operated in the Jani Khel region. The US has struck al Qaeda safe houses in Jani Khel twice since last year. These strikes are the only two Predator attacks that have occurred outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The town of Jani Khel is a known haven for al Qaeda leaders and fighters. Senior al Qaeda operative Abdullah Azzam al Saudi was killed in a Predator strike in Jani Khel on Nov. 19, 2008. Azzam served as a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in Pakistan’s northwest.
Al Qaeda is known to have deposited its donations received from Europe into the Bayt al Mal, or Bank of Money, in Jani Khel, according to a report at the NEFA Foundation. The Bayt al Mal served as al Qaeda’s treasury.
“The money can only be released on Osama bin Laden’s direction, and when such an order is given, it is Mustafa Abu Yazid who executes it,” the NEFA Foundation report said. Yazid, who is also known as Sheikh Saeed al Masri, is the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and also serves as the group’s chief financial operative.
US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:
Jan. 6, 2010
Jan. 3, 2010
Jan. 1, 2010