The US carried out the third unmanned airstrike in four days in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
A missile fired from an unmanned Predator or Reaper attack aircraft struck a Taliban compound in the village of Tapi near Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
Three “militants” were killed, Pakistani intelligence officials told Reuters. It is not yet known if senior Taliban or al Qaeda commanders were among those killed.
The region is under the control of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the senior Taliban commander in North Waziristan. Bahadar shelters al Qaeda and is allied with the Haqqani Network. Although he is not a member of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Taliban alliance headed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, he has allied with them in the past and is currently sheltering their leaders and fighters as the Pakistani military is operating in the Mehsud tribal regions.
The Pakistani military and government are unwilling to target Bahadar and the Haqqanis as these two are viewed as “good Taliban” since they do not directly threaten the Pakistani state and are seen as part of Pakistan’s strategic depth against India and Afghanistan.
Today’s attack is the fourth this month and the fifteenth this year. All 15 of the strikes have taken place in North Waziristan.
January 2010 had the highest monthly strike total since the program targeting Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and their network inside Pakistan’s tribal areas began in June 2004. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]
The US ramped up the attacks after an al Qaeda suicide bomber, aided by the Haqqani Network and Pakistani Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The Dec. 30, 2009, attack was carried out by a Jordanian al Qaeda operative and double agent at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province. The al Qaeda suicide bomber lured CIA officials by claiming to have information that would lead to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command.
Since the Dec. 30 suicide attack, the US has been hunting Hakeemullah, who appeared with the Jordanian suicide bomber on a martyrdom tape that was released shortly after the attack. Hakeemullah was rumored to have died on three separate occasions after being targeted in a Jan. 14 strike. The Taliban have denied he is dead and have claimed that a tape confirming he is alive will be released soon.
The attacks tapered off in mid-January, but may be on the rise again. In the 20 days between Dec. 31, 2009, and Jan 19, 2010, the US had launched 11 airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda bases in Pakistan. In the 29 days between Jan. 20, 2010, and Feb. 17, 2010, there have been only five airstrikes in Pakistan, but three of those have taken place in the past four days.
Background on the recent strikes in 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.
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. The status of Hakeemullah Mehsud is still unknown.
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, is rumored to have been killed in a strike on Jan. 14, although a Philippine military spokesman said Usman is likely still alive and in the Philippines.
In December 2009, the US killed Abdullah Said al Libi, the top commander of the Shadow Army; Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Shadow Army; 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:
Feb. 17, 2010
Feb. 15, 2010
Feb. 14, 2010
Feb. 2, 2010
Jan. 29, 2010
Jan. 19, 2010
Jan. 17, 2010
Jan. 15, 2010
Jan. 14, 2010
Jan. 9, 2010
Jan. 8, 2010
Jan. 6, 2010
Jan. 3, 2010
Jan. 1, 2010