The US has carried out two more airstrikes in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Eleven terrorists were reported killed in the strikes, which were carried out by unmanned US Predators or Reapers. The first strike hit a known Taliban compound in the village of Zanini near Mir Ali. Twp Taliban fighters and three “foreigners” were killed in the attack.
“US drones fired four missiles at a militant compound and according to initial information at least five militants have been killed,” a Pakistani security official told Dawn.
The second strike took place in the Mirkhwanai region, an area that borders South Waziristan. Six Taliban were reported killed.
The US has carried out three airstrikes inside Pakistan over the past two days. Yesterday’s strike along the border of North and South Waziristan targeted Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. US officials believe Hakeemullah survived the attack. Twelve terrorists, including two Arabs and several Uzbek fighters, were killed.
The Taliban denied reports from Pakistani intelligence officials who claimed Hakeemullah was killed. Taliban spokesman Tariq Azam claimed to have met Hakeemullah after the attack. A Taliban leader played a recording to a reporter that purportedly was made by Hakeemullah after the attack. The date of the tape could not be determined, however.
“Sometimes they (the government) launch a propaganda about my martyrdom through the media and sometimes they say that the operation has been completed in South Waziristan. This can never happen,” Hakeemullah said. “I am telling the nation that drone strikes are against Pakistan’s sovereignty and the rulers will be responsible for any drastic step taken by the Taliban in retaliation.”
The US has escalated the covert air campaign in Pakistan since Dec. 30, 2009, when a Jordanian al Qaeda operative killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer, in a suicide 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.
After the suicide attack in Khost, Hakeemullah was seen on a propaganda tape with the suicide bomber. Qari Hussain Mehsud, the master suicide bomb plotter and Hakeemullah’s deputy, said he was behind the attack at Combat Outpost Chapman.
The current pace of the strikes is unprecedented. Since the program began in 2004, the US has conducted 107 strikes in total. Last year, the US carried out 53 strikes. Since Dec. 31, 2009, the US has already carried out 9 strikes.
Since Dec. 8, 2009, the air campaign in Pakistan has killed two senior al Qaeda leaders, a senior Taliban commander, and two senior al Qaeda operatives.
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. 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].
The US air campaign in Pakistan has stirred controversy in both the US and in Pakistan. On Jan. 13, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking “the government to disclose the legal basis for its use of predator drones to conduct ‘targeted killings’ overseas.” The Pakistani government has denounced the US air campaign in public while secretly providing support for the program.
US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:
Jan. 15, 2010
Jan. 14, 2010
Jan. 9, 2010
Jan. 8, 2010
Jan. 6, 2010
Jan. 3, 2010
Jan. 1, 2010
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