US Predators hit al Qaeda haven in North Waziristan

The US carried out another airstrike in an area known to be an al Qaeda haven in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

Today unmanned US Predators or the more deadly and capable Reapers fired three missiles at a vehicle traveling in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.

Four “militants” were reported killed in the strike, according to SAMAA, but their affiliation to terror groups is unclear. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda commanders have been reported killed in the strike.

The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Datta Khel serves as a command and control center for al Qaeda’s top leaders. Several of al Qaeda’s top commanders, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, the chief financial official and commander in Afghanistan, and Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of al Qaeda’s military, have been killed in Predator strikes in Datta Khel in the last year. [For more information on al Qaeda’s presence in Datta Khel, see LWJ report Latest US Predator strike kills 5 in al Qaeda hub in North Waziristan.]

The US has pounded the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan over the past month; nine of the last 18 strikes have hit targets in Datta Khel.

The areas in North Waziristan controlled by Bahadar and by the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network have been hit especially hard this year. In 2010 so far, 75 percent of the year’s strikes have hit targets in territory controlled by Bahadar (34) or Haqqani (20).

Despite the fact that Bahadar and the Haqqani Network shelter al Qaeda and other South and Central Asian terror groups, the Pakistani government and military refuse to take action in North Waziristan. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are viewed as “good Taliban” as they do not attack the Pakistani state.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

The pace of the strikes this month is unprecedented since the US began the air campaign in Pakistan in 2004. The 18 strikes this month is a record number. The previous high was 11 strikes 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.

The US has carried out 72 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.]

All but eight of this year’s 72 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan. Of the eight strikes that have occurred outside of North Waziristan, six took place in South Waziristan, one occurred in Khyber, and one took place in Kurram.

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 as well as support al Qaeda’s external operations. [For a list of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in the US air campaign in Pakistan, see LWJ Special Report, Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in 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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