Unmanned US strike aircraft have killed 11 terrorists in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The strike aircraft, likely the Predators or the newer, more deadly Reapers, targeted Taliban and al Qaeda operatives today in the village of Datta Khel near the Afghan border. Datta Khel is a known hub for al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
Four missiles were fired at two Taliban compounds in the village, Geo News reported.
“Arab militants” threw a wide cordon around the attack site to prevent people from interfering with the recovery. “They barred all access within three kilometers of the facility,” The Times of India reported, indicating that an important leader may have been present. The US has launched follow-up strikes during the recovery in the past, but no such attack was launched today.
No senior Taliban or al Qaeda fighters have been reported killed in the attack. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not disclose the target of the attack.
Today’s airstrike is just the third in Pakistan this month. The last attack, on March 10, killed 15 terrorists in the village of Mizar Madakhel near the Afghan border. Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan, is rumored to have been killed in that attack but the report has not been confirmed.
Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani and Central Asian jihadi groups shelter in Bahadar’s tribal areas, and they also run training camps and safe houses in the region. The Pakistani military has indicated it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network, a deadly Taliban group that is closely allied with al Qaeda and is also based in North Waziristan.
So far this year, the US has carried out 20 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. Numerous Taliban leaders have stated that he is still alive and in command. On March 15, Khalid Khawaja, a lawyer for terrorist groups in Pakistan and a former ISI officer, claimed that his associates met with Hakeemullah on March 9.
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:
• US Predator strike in North Waziristan kills 11 Taliban, al Qaeda
March 16, 2010
• US airstrike kills 12 in North Waziristan
March 10, 2010
• US airstrike in North Waziristan kills 5 Taliban fighters
March 8, 2010
• US hits Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, kills 8
Feb. 24, 2010
• US airstrikes target Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
Feb. 18, 2010
• Latest US airstrike kills 3 in North Waziristan
Feb. 17, 2010
• US strike kills 4 in North Waziristan
Feb. 15, 2010
• US strikes training camp in North Waziristan
Feb. 14, 2010
• Predators pound terrorist camp in North Waziristan
Feb. 2, 2010
• US airstrike targets Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
Jan. 29, 2010
• US airstrike in North Waziristan kills 6
Jan. 19, 2010
• Latest US airstrike in Pakistan kills 20
Jan. 17, 2010
• US strikes kill 11 in North Waziristan
Jan. 15, 2010
• US airstrike hits Taliban camp in North Waziristan
Jan. 14, 2010
• US airstrike kills 4 Taliban fighters in North Waziristan
Jan. 9, 2010
• US airstrike kills 5 in North Waziristan
Jan. 8, 2010
• US kills 17 in latest North Waziristan strike
Jan. 6, 2010
• US airstrike kills 2 Taliban fighters in Mir Ali in Pakistan
Jan. 3, 2010
• US kills 3 Taliban in second strike in North Waziristan
Jan. 1, 2010
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.
I like it when they hit the guys forming the cordon.
I just realized, this whole hit-them-while-they-cordon thing must depend on how many assets they have available at the moment. We have a limited number of UAV’s that are hunting for targets all the time…
Strike capabilities will always be dependent on the number of assets available to execute the mission. However, there is no way to tell what assets were available to our forces at the time of the mission.
Another factor to consider is the amount of available targets. Also, the application of force required to complete a surgical strike mission is a very measured (and hopefully) precise process in which a variety of tactics are used dependent upon conditions in and around the target area.
UAV operators and commanders are also tasked with ensuring that collateral damage is minimized so they have to be sure that their response is appropriate for the task at hand an no more than is necessary.
There are numerous reports of UAV’s being used in swarms very successfully. Even this year, reports of US UAV’s acting in swarms have made the news.
Not hitting the cordon also depends on how much information you can gain from watching and listening to the cordon. Unlike a shoot ’em up game the issue here is finding high value targets and that involves intelligence and observation. Wasting Hellfires and drone time on insignificant Taliban is not a good use of resources (unless it leads you up the chain).
I suspect the follow up attacks (as mentioned before) are related to the value of the target hit and the quality of the intelligence given. If some HUMINT (or SIGINT) gives very high quality info (“Meeting of shura in the bunker below the building at these coordinates at 2am tomorrow”) then you just have to hit that bunker. Then watch for squirters. If the intel is less good you might end up doing something like guided “reconnaissance in force” i.e. hit the best looking target that matches your intel then look and listen to what happens when the strike starts. I suspect the multiple hits at different locations in one day might be an example of this. Even killing a mid-level leader or middling AQ might lead to a turn out at the funeral (this is sort of leveraging psyops and understanding the enemy response) from the higher level leader who you follow for a while to see who he meets. But I suspect most of the time if you find one you follow and listen to him rather than kill him.
I’m sure vastly more resources are put into operation (24/7) doing recon and intel than doing strikes. Think undercover police work rather than Western movies.
Thanks for the insight guys, welcomed as always. As usual it was way more complex than I thought. Good to know there is one place on the web where we can come for some intelligent discussion!
AQ top leadership (Bin Ladin and Z) are under total protection of Pakistani intelligence either in exchange for something or because of a unity of anti-Western philosophy or combination thereof. We will never hit them with the drone program. You have to go in there by foot soldier and kill or capture them.
AQ top leadership is also untraceable. Like a black hole, they emit no signal whatsoever. Nothing important is written down; everything important is committed to memory and “transported” by either pedestrian means or innocuous animal drawn cart or wagon. All transporters are informed on a strictly need to know basis. AQ’s discipline makes Omerta look like a gabfest. AQ’s patience is limitless. The only way to get them before they get us is to go into Pakistan proper and hunt them down house by house if necessary. Until America resolves to raise an army and do this, we are extremely vulnerable to attack by nuclear weapons smuggled ashore and detonated or brought close in to shore and detonated. Because AQ is 100% irrational I truly believe it is the most dangerous enemy this country has ever faced.
Great point kp, but the unadultered slaughter of the low thousands of unrepentant enemy combatants has its strong sides and can easily be done without wasting ‘drone time’ and a minimum of offensive capability. Take for example a drone is running out of fuel and about to head back to base. Fire all or almost all missiles that are left at low-ranking Taliban. Such a strategy may both disrupt or aid the efforts in finding high-mid level leaders, but it will certainly disrupt the rank and file and low-level leaders if not higher up.
However this can of course be done with many other assets than UAVs, and it is not done because of PR.
Long term..they might tunnel& bunker in like Hezbollah..
and adapt 2 “problems from the sky”
Good hunting as long as it lasts..
The FATA is a very different place from Southern Lebanon. A big tunnel and bunker system requires a concrete and steel infrastructure to build those and you expose yourself during construction and ultimately you end up with a single fixed location i.e. target after it’s built. None of these areas are immune from the Pakistani Army if they have the will to do it. I think these guys will continue to prefer to be mobile, dispersed and cryptic.
JRP said; “AQ top leadership is also untraceable. Like a black hole, they emit no signal whatsoever. Nothing important is written down; everything important is committed to memory and “transported” by either pedestrian means or innocuous animal drawn cart or wagon.”