Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate that the top Taliban commander in North Waziristan may have been among those killed in yesterday’s swarm attack by unmanned US aircraft in the lawless tribal agency.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the powerful Taliban chieftain in North Waziristan, was the target of yesterday’s airstrike in the Datta Khel region.
Bahadar is rumored to be among those killed in the strike, according to reports in The New York Times and ANI, but his death has not been confirmed. US intelligence officials are “investigating the possibility that he was killed” but could not confirm the reports.
The strike was carried out by five unmanned US aircraft, likely the Predators or their deadly older brothers, the Reapers. The aircraft launched the attack in two waves. First a volley of four missiles hit a compound in the village of Mizar Madakhel. After Taliban fighters cordoned the area and began to recover bodies, a second volley was fired. Initial reports indicated that 12 Taliban fighters were killed; the The New York Times later claimed a total of 21 killed.
Bahadar is the senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan and one of the most prominent commanders in Pakistan. He is a direct descendant of Mirza Ali Khan, the tribal leader who fought the British and the Indians in the early 20th century. Bahadar chairs the North Waziristan Shura, or executive council. His forces defeated the Pakistani Army in 2006 and 2007; nonetheless, Bahadar is considered by the Pakistani establishment a “pro-government Taliban” leader.
Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani and Central Asian jihadi groups shelter in Bahadar’s tribal areas, and run training camps and safe houses in the region.
In early 2009, Bahadar united with former Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud and South Waziristan Taliban leader Mullah Nazir to form the United Mujahideen Council. The group was formed at the behest of Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and the Haqqanis. The three leaders of the newly formed Council vowed to oppose the Pakistani military and government, repel any government incursion into the tribal areas, and continue to support Taliban operations in Afghanistan. The commanders demanded that Pakistan end military operations in the tribal areas and halt the US Predator strikes.
Both Nazir and Bahadar ended their participation in the United Mujahideen Council after Baitullah was killed in a US airstrike in South Waziristan in August 2009. The two Taliban leaders cut a deal with the government as the military moved into Mehsud tribal areas in South Waziristan, but they have still sheltered Taliban leaders and fighters fleeing South Waziristan. The military has indicated it has no plans to take on either Bahadar or Nazir, or the Haqqani Network.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.