Latest US Predator strike kills 5 in al Qaeda hub in North Waziristan

Unmanned US Predator strike aircraft struck yet again in a region in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan that is known to be a hub for al Qaeda’s operations.

US Predators or the more deadly and capable Reapers fired four missiles at a compound and a vehicle in the village of Payekhel in the Datta Khel area in North Waziristan. The compound belonged to a known “local militant,” according to the Associated Press.

Five “militants” were reported killed in the strike, but no senior Taliban or al Qaeda commanders have been reported killed.

The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan.

The strike is the second in Payekhel in Datta Khel in four days. The last strike, on Sept. 15, killed three terrorists.

This latest strike today is the 14th this month, making September the most active month since the US began hitting targets in Pakistan in 2004. Eleven strikes were carried out in January 2010, after the Taliban and al Qaeda executed a successful suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman that targeted CIA personnel who were active in gathering intelligence for the Predator campaign in Pakistan. In the bombing at COP Chapman, seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed.

With today’s strike, the US has carried out 68 attacks inside Pakistan this year. The US exceeded last year’s strike total of 53 with a strike in Kurram late last month. In 2008, the US carried out 36 strikes inside Pakistan. [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.]

The US campaign in northwestern Pakistan has targeted top al Qaeda leaders, al Qaeda’s external operations network, and Taliban leaders and fighters who threaten both the Afghan and Pakistani states. The areas controlled by Bahadar and by the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network have been hit especially hard this year.

Background on the Datta Khel area

The Datta Khel region has been targeted intensively by the US, especially in the past several weeks. Seven out of the last 14 strikes have taken place in Datta Khel. The US has conducted 18 airstrikes in the Datta Khel region this year, or 26 percent of its current total of 68 airstrikes in Pakistan in 2010. Of the 161 strikes in Pakistan since 2004, 23 have taken place in Datta Khel.

Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, or al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel.

Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been targeted and killed in Datta Khel. A strike on Dec. 17, 2009, targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army or Lashkar al Zil, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, were both killed in the attack.

But the most significant attack in Datta Khel took place on May 21 this year and resulted in the death of Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.

Yazid served as the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the wider Khorasan, a region that encompasses portions of Pakistan, Iran, and several Central Asian states. More importantly, Yazid was as al Qaeda’s top financier, which put him in charge of the terror group’s purse strings. He served on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or top decision-making council. Yazid also was closely allied with the Taliban and advocated the program of embedding small al Qaeda teams with Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

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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