US pounds Taliban in pair of strikes in North Waziristan

The US launched a barrage of missiles at a Taliban compound today and a vehicle during a pair of airstrikes in a known al Qaeda haven in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan.

In the first strike, Unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired 18 missiles at a compound and vehicles parked outside it in the Datta Khel region near the Afghan border. The compound was described as a “training camp” run by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Reports indicate the Taliban had set up tents in the compound.

Fourteen extremists were killed in the strike, according to AFP. Three more were wounded, and the death toll is expected to rise.

In the second strike, the unmanned US strike aircraft fired two missiles at a vehicle traveling in the Datta Khel region near the Afghan border. Seven Taliban fighters were reported killed.

No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed at this time. But the concentrated attack indicates a high value target may have been at the compound.

Datta Khel is a known al Qaeda hub

Today strikes make for the third in Datta Khel in three days. On May 9, US Predators fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Inzar Kala in Datta Khel, killing 10 “rebels,” including suspected al Qaeda operatives. “The compound became suspicious as it was being used by foreigners,” a Pakistani official said, referring to al Qaeda fighters.

Today’s airstrikes took place in a region administered by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani and Central Asian jihadist groups shelter in Bahadar’s tribal areas, and they also run training camps and safe houses in the region.

Datta Khel is a known hub for al Qaeda. The Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, al Qaeda’s military force, is based in the region. The US has struck targets in Datta Khel 14 times since 2004, which makes for more than 10 percent of the total of US airstrikes in Pakistan.

The US killed Abdullah Said al Libi, the leader of the Lashkar al Zil, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a senior commander, in a Dec. 17, 2009, strike in Datta Khel. The target of the attack was Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a senior leader on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council.

Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network, a deadly Taliban group that is closely allied with al Qaeda. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.

The US is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to take on the Taliban and al Qaeda directly in North Waziristan and the port city of Karachi since the recent failed attack in Times Square in New York City has been traced back to Waziristan. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American behind the plot, admitted to training with the Taliban in North Waziristan.

US strikes in Pakistan, by the numbers

Today’s strikes make for the third and fourth reported inside Pakistan this month, and the third in three days. The US is well on its way to exceeding last year’s strike total in Pakistan. So far this year, the US has carried out 35 strikes in Pakistan; all of the strikes this year 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.”]

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. [For more information, see LWJ report, “Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.”]

Most recently, on March 8, a US strike in a bazaar in Miramshah killed a top al Qaeda operative known as Sadam Hussein Al Hussami. Hussami was a prot

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • BullsEyes says:

    12 Missiles?!
    That’s an awful lot of firepower for a compound.
    So: are we trying to go for a definite kill of a HVT, or is it more a case of taking each and every single armed Taliban militant?
    If we go for each and every militant who is involved with a Taliban/AQ linked group, it may force them to go even further underground and disrupt their movements for a bit, until they organize a more covert method of communications.

  • Charley says:

    Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Mullen now saying they have not pressured Pakistan to go into NW. It is all a big misunderstanding. Business as usual…all hunky dory, all quiet on the NWaziristan front for the assorted terrorists, go back to sleep, go back to sending terrorists to the West.
    In other news, doubts being raised about Gen. McChrystal’s plan.

  • Tyler says:

    Bill, saw an interesting one but I can’t be totally certain they are one and the same.
    Kohlmann and SITE intel both relayed news that the Taliban and other jihadi sources are confirming the death of a Yemeni on the AfPak border in recent days going by the name of Abu Dujanah as-Sanaani. Both sources describe him as a bombmaker and an active online jihadi. With SITE suggesting he was killed during a bomb-making session by his own work. Boo hoo.
    I raise it because it could be the same Abu Dujanah Sanaani, of the ‘Balagh media center’ you cite in your April 15 article where he interviews Siraj Haqqani about the supposedly decreasing effectiveness of the drone strikes.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @Charley. I’m not understanding your take. Of course top American commanders are not saying that they have “pressured” the Paks into any military undertaking against that nation’s sovereign desires and interests. Good grief. What would you expect?
    ISAF and the Paks are actually working quite closely from every account I’ve read.
    Regarding the two news items you linked: Meh. Anonymous grousers in the Pentagon??? Somebody’s selfish demands weren’t satisfactorily acceded to and now they’re mewling as nameless cowards to an adversarial media???? I call that Tuesday.

  • Jim says:

    Could these strikes be a result of intellegence gained from the reported capture of mullah omar?

  • Chris says:

    Do you dream that Omar has betrayed his old friend Osama? 😉

  • kp says:

    The report on NPR this morning was this camp was a base for attacks into Afghanistan.

    It a compound (of temporary mud-brick houses) in the district of Lowara Mandi, some 50 kilometres from Miran Shah and close to the border with the restive Afghan province of Khost. A good location for cross-border attacks.

    It’s worth keeping in mind that the drone attacks in NW are targeting Taliban/AQ that are planning and executing attacks in Afghanistan. It’s not all about hitting HVTs (and from the stats you can see that most of the time it’s not about HVTs). But hitting fighters and logistics directed at Afghanistan is a good use of force.

    This large attack might just have been a lot of targets in what is now a “big” (and perhaps temporary) camp with a single compound with a few buildings, tents and vehicles.

  • bobj says:

    Bill Roggio deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his constant and herioc updates from the front lines of this war. I just broke down and donated one dollar for each missile (18 !) that Bill just reported was used in this latest strike. We appreciate this priceless source of accurate information about this war. Thanks Bill!!

  • Jimmy says:

    “ISAF and the Paks are actually working quite closely from every account I’ve read”
    More like, Paks are USING ISAF to tackle the Taliban that threatens ONLY Pakistan. All the while the Taliban that threaten NATO are left untouched (and even nurtured). Americans are being used! Oh, when will you learn. Why else would the war be going on for 9 years (with a solid possibility of defeat of NATO)? Why else would Mullah Omar, Haqqani and maybe even OBL be alive and kicking in Pakistan in safe houses guarded by ISI?
    These drone strikes are mostly a result of human intel. Who provides these intel? Mostly Pakistan army…some independant intel from NATO ofcourse, but mostly Pak Army. They feed only intel about the targets THEY want to kill. Thats not co-orperation…thats DECEIVING of the NATO military hardware for SELFISH GAINS. Why else would they bar US from predator strikes in Balochistan where Mullah Omar was actually hiding? Why is there so litle human intel about the Haqqani family? Because Pak Army, ISI ís nurturing these guys! Kapish?

  • kp says:

    @Jimmy: “These drone strikes are mostly a result of human intel. Who provides these intel? ”

    Really? The intel for the attacks comes from CIA, the DIA, the NSA, the NRO and probably a few more. Plus info from other countries intelligence agencies.

    The attacks are planned as a result of all of the USAs intelligence capability: “technical means” (local and global SIGINT, local ELINT e.g. TEMPEST emissions from laptops and other hardware, Bluetooth and WiFi), imaging/reconnaissance (satellites, drone imaging), global intel sources (captured documents elsewhere on the planet) and HUMINT (both CIA, DIA and Pakistani). You can see this from the pattern of sequential attacks over multiple days (SIGINT, imagery), the targets found (e.g. the hitting of Somali and Yemeni connected people), the use of FOB Chapman (running CIA HUMINT close to the border — that’s why they got bombed) and comments in the open literature e.g. about drones carrying SIGINT gear particularly GMS phone intercept gear.

    We probably don’t hear much about passive reconnaissance systems but I suspect Global Hawk and perhaps other low observable aircraft like the “Beast of Kandahar” have a role in imagery and SIGINT over the NWFP with long loiter time at high altitude acting as a “low sat” over the region. There are others that might be in use too that we are not hearing about: JSTARS for tracking vehicle traffic (or perhaps JSTARS radar flying on a large drone). TR-1 is another possibility for regional imagery and regional SIGINT/ELINT.

    We have a technical advantage and will use it where we can.

  • Jimmy says:

    However advanced Internet may be…sending letters by regular post will never become extinct. Similarly, however advanced may be ELINT, CIA, the DIA, the NSA, the NRO, SIGINT and what not, Human Intel can never be replaced.
    Baitullah Mehsud was killed only through accurate human intel. All the other electronic intel are of only limited use against insurgents who hide away in caves and use ‘smoke signals’ (non-electronic) communication methods. Electronic intel may be used with adversaries like China or Soviet Union but not against impoverished rag-tag militants who run around in mountains.
    It is exactly this limitation for which the US needs Pakistani help, but this is also exactly the reason why Pakistan can cunningly manupulate the US to eliminate only those militants groups who threaten Pakistan but shield (by withholding human intel) those militants who target NATO. The US cannot solely rely on electronic intel due to fear of collateral damage (innocent tribals getting killed). Again, this hysteria about innocents getting killed was whipped up by Pakistan, to make the US dependent on Pakistani human intel. Its like Pakistan has ‘outsourced’ its dirty work to the US without giving anything in return.

  • kp says:

    Jimmy: “impoverished rag-tag militants who run around in mountains”

    Your model for the Taliban and Al Qaeda is a bit out of date. The leadership (and the folks in training) do minimize their exposure and HUMINT is certainly useful for getting to those. But they haven’t given up all of their electronic communication: they have to put out videos which requires a video recorder (that leaks RF) and the video needs to be edited on laptops (that leak RF) and either uploaded out or put on CD/flash and transported out. Their PR people call up journalists on GSM phones than can be intercepted.

    I doubt they use regular mail either (it’s easy to intercept even if “coded in the clear” and it requires fixed addresses or someone who can forward to a mobile address (that’s a weak point in the system). I suspect too that the FATA doesn’t have great mail service these days. For top level communications they use couriers and dead drops I suspect.

    But for day to day operations the Taliban in particular use RF comms (open literature reports jamming and intercepts of those). Taking radio from a military using serious compromises their coordination in day to day operation and particularly in post-strike.

    If they avoid radio and use couriers then those personnel have to move messages around. That makes them vulnerable to being nabbed or being seen. And that’s were imagery comes in. You see and follow the logistics and movement of foreces (these people have to be fed, have to get fuel, have to move around to different smaller camps, have to congregate for attacks, etc). This movement will yield to traffic analysis pointing to important locations that should be further watched and added to the big databasse tracking all the info (e.g. it was information management as much as code breaking that helped make SIGINT useful in WW2).

    And back to Baitullah Mehsud: both TECHINT and HUMINT played a role in his killing.

    The Drone strikes depend partly on human intelligence and partly on technical intelligence. Since August, 2008, there was a considerable improvement in the flow of HUMINT as could be seen from the increasing successes of the strikes. The success of a Drone strike in killing Baitullah Mehsud, the then Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in August , 2009, was made possible by precise TECHINT pinpointing the house of Baitullah’s father-in-law in South Waziristan and equally precise HUMINT

    All forms of intelligence are available in this war and they’re all used. They all contributes little pieces: ELINT picks up soem stray RF (how many electronic devices are in use in FATA amongst the general population?). Then you can watch (imagery and radar/JSTARS) and listen (SIGINT) and see if you can get targeted HUMINT from your sources. I’m sure it works the other way too you get some HUMINT and the other technical means see if it’s good (your not going to hit on HUMINT alone because you can be gamed into hitting civilians). Even the terminal part of the BM attack IDed him on the roof (with his wife) before OKing the strike. HUMINT is important but its not the only method especially against the groups trying to organize and execute attacks in Afghanistan.

  • Attorney says:

    I have to join BullsEyes in asking why so much firepower for a single compound? Something about that doesn’t sit well with me…


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