The US carried out its first airstrike in 12 days in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Five terrorists were killed in a strike that targeted the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network at a bazaar in the main town of Miramshah.
Two unmanned US strike aircraft, the Predators or Reapers operating from secret bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, fired three missiles at two compounds in a bazaar in Miramshah, according to reports at Geo News and Dawn.
“Two drones fired three missiles in Miramshah bazaar,” a local Pakistani told AFP. “Two buildings in the centre of the bazaar were hit and destroyed in the attack.”
The Miramshah region is controlled by the Haqqani Network, the Taliban group that is based in North Waziristan and operates in eastern Afghanistan. Anti-Soviet mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani is the patriarch of the Haqqani Network, while his son Siraj is the military commander who runs the day-to-day operations.
The Haqqanis are closely allied with al Qaeda and the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar. The Haqqani family runs the Manba Ulom madrassa in the village of Danda Darpa Khel just outside of Miramshah. The madrassa is a hub of activity for the terror group. The US has struck at targets in Danda Darpa Khel five times since Aug. 20, 2009, and seven times since September 2008.
Recently, the US targeted Siraj in a strike in Danda Darpa Khel, in a strike on Feb. 18, 2010. Intelligence indicated that Siraj was attending the funeral of Sheikh Mansour, an al Qaeda military commander who was killed in a US strike the day prior. Siraj escaped the attack, but his brother Mohammed, a military commander in the Haqqani Network, was killed.
Siraj is one of the most wanted Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in the Afghan-Pakistan region. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. He is the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, including suicide assaults in Kabul, and he is the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. Siraj serves as the leader of the Taliban’s Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban’s four regional commands [see LWJ report, “The Afghan Taliban’s top leaders“].
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.
Today’s strike is the first carried out by the US in Pakistan this month, and is also the first in 12 days. The last attack, on Feb. 24, killed Qari Mohammad Zafar, a leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam, in the town of Dargi Mandi near Miramshah. Zafar was wanted by the US for murdering a consular official in a suicide attack outside the US Consulate in Karachi in 2006.
So far this year, the US has carried out 18 strikes in Pakistan; all of them have taken place in North Waziristan. In 2009, the US carried out 53 strikes in Pakistan; and in 2008, the US carried out 36 strikes in the country. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]
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.
Unmanned US Predator and Reaper strike aircraft have been pounding Taliban and al Qaeda hideouts in North Waziristan over the past several months in an effort to kill senior terror leaders and disrupt the networks that threaten Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the West. Since Dec. 8, 2009, the air campaign in Pakistan has killed four 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 several others – a top Pakistani Taliban leader, a member of al Qaeda’s top council, and a wanted Philippine terrorist – is still unknown.
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 of leaders and operatives thought to have been killed in US strikes].
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; Haji Omar Khan, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan; Mohammed Haqqani, a military commander in the Haqqani Network; Sheikh Mansoor, an al Qaeda Shadow Army commander; and Qari Mohammad Zafar, a leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam. 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.
The status of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, is still unknown; the Taliban released a videotape of him on March 1 but it did not confirm he was alive. On March 1, a rumor surfaced that Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party and a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, was killed in a strike on Feb. 15. 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.
US strikes in Pakistan in 2010:
March 8, 2010
Feb. 24, 2010
Feb. 18, 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
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.