US air campaign in Pakistan zeroes in on North Waziristan, Bahadar


The controversial US air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas has continued unabated in 2010, and is on track to exceed the number of strikes carried out in 2009. So far this year, the US has carried out 35 strikes, just 18 shy of the 2009 total. With seven and a half months left in 2010, the 2009 total should be surpassed sometime in July at the current pace. The strikes continue to target top leaders of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied jihadist groups based in the tribal areas, as well as the jihadist infrastructure and operatives used to carry out attacks against Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the West.

Some interesting trends have developed since the beginning of 2010. North Waziristan, the hub for the Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied jihadists, has become the primary focal point of the attacks. More than half of the strikes have taken place in the tribal areas controlled by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar, while attacks against the Haqqani Network’s sanctuaries have decreased. And the strikes continue to hit a wide variety of targets.

North Waziristan is the eye of the storm

The shift in focus from South Waziristan to North Waziristan that began in September 2009 has continued, with 100 percent of the 35 strikes so far this year occurring in North Waziristan. Miramshah has been the most frequently targeted region within North Waziristan, accounting for more than a third of all strikes so far this year (13 of 35 strikes, or 37 percent). The Datta Khel region, a known haven for al Qaeda’s military and command, is second on the targeting list, accounting for a quarter of the strikes (8 of 35 strikes, or 23 percent).

Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s territory is most hit

So far in 2010, more than half of the Predator strikes (19 of 35 Predator strikes, or 54 percent), have hit targets in territory controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, far more than in any other Taliban commander’s territory. Looking at the last 10 strikes, eight of those have taken place in Bahadar’s areas. And the last seven strikes have hit targets in Bahadar’s areas. The concentrated focus on Bahadar represents a significant shift in targeting priorities — prior to 2010, Bahadar’s territory had been targeted only four times in the past 5 years. At the end of 2009, the Haqqani Network was the primary focus of US strikes in Pakistan.

January 2010 saw largest number of strikes since program began in 2004

The 11 strikes in January 2010 represent the highest single-month total in terms of frequency of Predator strikes since the program began in 2004, surpassing the 10 strikes that occurred in October 2008. The strikes were ramped up after a Jordanian al Qaeda operative and double agent carried out a suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province in late December 2009. The bomber killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer.

After the Dec. 30 suicide attack, the US hunted Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who took shelter in North Waziristan. Hakeemullah appeared with the Jordanian suicide bomber on a martyrdom tape that was released shortly after the attack. Hakeemullah was rumored to have been killed in a strike on Jan. 14, but he later appeared on a videotape that was produced on April 19 and released on May 2, just one day after the failed car bombing in Times Square, New York City. On the tape, Hakeemullah threatened to carry out attacks inside the US.

High Value Targets

Over the past year, 20 top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and operatives have been killed (between April 1, 2009 and April 1, 2010) by Predator strikes in Pakistan. This accounts for 44 percent of the total High Value Targets confirmed to have been killed since 2004. Among those killed since April 1, 2009, are: Abdullah Said al Libi, the top commander of the Shadow Army; Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Shadow Army; Saleh al Somali, the leader of al Qaeda’s external network; Qari Mohammad Zafar, a leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam; 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 and brother of Siraj; and Sheikh Mansoor, an al Qaeda Shadow Army commander [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 killed].

Purpose of strikes

Much of the media’s reporting on the air campaign continues to focus on the deaths of senior al Qaeda leaders. But the campaign has more than one objective. Certainly the US is targeting al Qaeda’s senior leadership in an effort to disrupt the overall command and control of the terror group, but the attacks are also aimed at hitting al Qaeda’s external operations network and disrupting the Taliban’s operations in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

First and foremost, the primary objective of the air campaign has been to disrupt al Qaeda’s external network and prevent the group from striking at the US and her allies. The campaign has targeted camps known to house foreigners as well as trainers and leaders for the network. Al Qaeda operatives known to have lived in the West and holding foreign passports have been killed in several Predator strikes. One such strike on an al Qaeda camp in South Waziristan on Aug. 30, 2008, killed two Canadian passport holders as they trained in the camp. Also, since May 14, 2008, the US has killed three of the leaders of al Qaeda’s external operations branch: Abu Sulayman Jazairi, Osama al Kini, and Saleh al Somali. Other senior operatives involved in a Qaeda’s external operations network have also been killed in the attacks.

Another major objective has been to disrupt the Taliban and al Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. The Taliban in Afghanistan receive significant support from within Pakistan. Taliban groups that are very active against Coalition forces in Afghanistan, such as the Haqqani Network, the Mehsud Taliban, and Mullah Nazir, have flourished in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas. The US has targeted both Taliban leaders and fighters during these strikes. The Haqqani Network, for instance, is the most heavily targeted group because it both conducts operations in Afghanistan and harbors al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Several large Taliban training camps that are known to train fighters for the Afghan front have been the targets of attack. For instance, a training camp in Kurram operated by an Afghan Taliban commander was hit on Feb. 16, 2009. As noted Said al Libi, the top commander of the Shadow Army, and Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Shadow Army were killed during a strike in December 2009. The Lashkar al Zil is al Qaeda’s military unit that partners with the Taliban on both sides of the border.

Along with targeting al Qaeda’s external operations network and the Taliban’s Afghan operations in Pakistan, the US has also targeted Pakistani Taliban commanders who threaten the stability of the Pakistani state. The US hunted Baitullah Mehsud for a year before killing him in a strike in early August of 2009. Several of Baitullah’s deputies have also been killed this past year. And Hakeemullah Mehsud was the target of US strikes in January; the US only stopped targeting him as it was thought he was killed. The US has an interest in preventing nuclear Pakistan from becoming a failed state and also needs to keep supply lines open through Pakistan and into Afghanistan. More than 70 percent of the US and NATO supplies travel through Pakistan’s northwest.

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  • GeraldAnthro says:

    Paki paradigm shift. may announce Omar capture?
    Or readying for N Waziristan action?
    something is up.

  • James says:

    Very concise summary with interesting assessments. This website is such a great resource, thanks again Mr. Roggio.

  • T Ruth says:

    Looks like Pakistan is setting the priorities. Pak would like to see the HAQ network, oft-described as the most dangerous, installed in Kabul, or at least part of a coalition (syndicate would be more appropriate).
    Meantime the effort is to to degrade Bahadar’s and Mehsud’s abilities before they go into N Waziristan whenever that is, if at all. Pakistan hopes to find a friendly Haqqani there and then form a new alliance for Afghanistan. Uncle Sam will be the first, along with Uncle Stan (Pakistan) to recognise the new-improved Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Ten years after.

  • Scott says:

    Well Bill you and this site are a hit everywhere huh? You “are ‘da man!”….
    Mullah Omar captured? — []
    Which Navy Seal punched Omar in the left eye?
    You know the deal, if it ain’t up at Long War Journal it’s just talk. It would be lovely, but let’s chill and see what turns up.

  • Zeissa says:

    You mean 8 attacks not 13 again (if I approximated correctly).

  • Kemal says:

    “With six and a half months left in 2010…”
    There are seven and a half months left.


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