US airstrike kills 16 in South Waziristan

The US carried out just its second Predator strike in Pakistan this month, killing 16 Taliban fighters in an attack on a Taliban compound in South Waziristan.

Several Predator or the more deadly Reaper unmanned strike aircraft fired five missiles at a “hideout” used by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the Angora Adda area in South Waziristan, Geo News reported.

All of those killed were Taliban fighters, Pakistani intelligence officials told Dawn. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed in the strike.

Wana is under the control of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri tribal areas in South Waziristan. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state.

However, Nazir openly supports Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, and wages jihad in Afghanistan; more senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Nazir’s tribal areas during the US air campaign than in those of any other Taliban leader in Pakistan. Nazir also shelters the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in violation of the peace agreement with the Pakistani government.

The number of strikes has dramatically reduced over the past month. Today’s strike is just the second reported inside Pakistan in July. Over the past year, the US has averaged between six to eight strikes a month.

Also, two out of the past three strikes have taken place in Nazir’s tribal areas in South Waziristan. Previously the strikes this year have focused on regions under the control of the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar.

So far this year, the US has carried out 47 strikes in Pakistan; all but four have taken place in North Waziristan. The other four strikes took place in South Waziristan and the tribal agency of Khyber.

The US is well on its way to exceeding last year’s strike total in Pakistan. 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 LWJ Special Report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]

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

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5 Comments

  • Munnabhai says:

    I have always wondered how such strikes by Pakistani army or by USA with blessings of Pak Govt always succeed in killing only militants while others conducted by USA without the blessings of local govt like in Kandahar end up killing civilians too?
    This is particularly puzzling bcz big militant leaders reportedly killed often resurface showing how fickle the information is!
    How can LWJ be sure that only militants (and no civilians) were killed? Conversely, if Indian security forces kill insurgents, there is always a big hullabaloo about civilian deaths. Some sanity needs to be brought to these reports.

  • Marlin says:

    There was an excellent post earlier this week discussing the context in which drone strikes occur in Pakistan.

    The on the ground effort signals a greater emphasis on counterinsurgency by the Pakistani army itself, as it has gradually come to see itself in a war inside Pakistan against its own Taliban enemies, and not simply as a staging area for the Afghan fighting. As Adam Entous of Reuter’s noted in an excellent article a few weeks ago, this is a shift for the Pakistan military and for the US as well. Drone strikes, for example, are occurring in Pakistan no longer as simply part of the US counterterrorism strategy of seeking to strike at terrorists in their safe havens, but as part of regular combat. It is a distinct strategic role in which the US is supplying an air weapon for the Pakistani army, and, as this article suggests, money and equipment for counterinsurgency as well.

    During the past two years, Pakistan has stepped up military operations against the militant groups that operate in the tribal areas. Although Washington has praised the Pakistani offensives, Pentagon officials have said Pakistan’s military needs help winning support among tribal elders. If successful, the joint missions and projects may help the Pakistani military retain control of areas in South Waziristan, the Swat valley and other border regions they have cleared of militants.

    The use of drones, then, needs to be understood in two different strategic contexts – an air weapon in an overt war, alongside the high value, intelligence driven targeting of terrorist leadership that has mostly been the center of attention. I’ve been having conversations with various journalists in the past couple of weeks; I am struck by their perception – accurate – that drone strikes have been on the increase in Pakistan, but their unawareness of the differing roles, combat counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism that in part accounts for the rise in drone use. (In another post, I’ll take up the questions of counterinsurgency strategy; I have a somewhat different perspective, having seen it for many years through the lens of a human rights monitor seeing how it sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t, in conflicts in which the US was not, or was only peripherally, involved. Wars in Latin America, and other places.)

    The Volokh Conspiracy: Deepening US Special Ops Forces in Pakistan

  • Setrak says:

    While I don’t speak for Bill Roggio or the Long War Journal, the drone strikes carried out with Pakistan’s wink-of-a-blessing are often carried out with intelligence provided by Pakistani security officials. When considering the history between the militants and the military over there, it’s not hard to imagine how easily some of those intelligence officers could pinpoint the location of the militants/their-off-and-on-friends.
    Civilians are caught in the crossfire from time to time, and when it happens it does get reported. The strike that took out Yazid reported the death of his family members. Previous strikes were described in the media as having killed children as well. There does seem to be fewer civilian deaths in Waziristan relative to other areas where airpower is used, and this is probably the result of highly-selective targeting and the ability for drones to stay in the air for long periods with powerful cameras/scopes waiting for the right time to strike.

  • g says:

    I think the LWJ can be sure they were only militants because this strike seemed to be based on some decent intel. Six missiles is a pretty large flurry so it seems like we were after someone in particular. Those somebodies are usually well protected and not by civilians. Anyone in or near this site at the time was involved. Thankfully, they are no more.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    LWJ uses reports from the Pakistani media to try to figure out the casualties. When we see those reports of civilian casualties, we report them. But the reports, from the Pakistani press (Geo, Dawn, Daily Times, etc.) show low civilian casualty numbers. This is not perfect, nor do we claim it to be. Alex Mayer and I have been clear on this in the past, and we’ve stated that information from the region is imperfect and that we believe the civilian casualty figures to be higher.

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