US Predators strike again in Pakistan, killing 14 ‘militants’

The US continued its unprecedented pace of airstrikes inside Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, launching its third Predator attack in 24 hours.

Unmanned US Predators, or the more deadly Reapers, fired five missiles at two compounds in the village of Darga Mandi, which is on the outskirts of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. The compounds were owned by Bacha Khan, who is known to have rented them to Taliban fighters.

“Several US drones fired seven missiles at two militants compounds early this morning (Wednesday) killing at least five militants,” a senior Pakistani security official told AFP. A report at Dawn claimed 12 missiles were fired in the strike, killing 14.

No senior Taliban, Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, or allied terror group leaders have been reported killed in the latest strike. Members of the Punajbi Taliban were among those killed, according to Reuters.

Darga Mandi is in the sphere of influence of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban group led by mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. The US has stepped up its attacks against the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan as part of a “hammer-and-anvil” strategy to hit the al Qaeda-linked terror network in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, The Associated Press reported.

The US has killed 29 terrorists in the three strikes over the past 24 hours. Earlier today, US Predators fired three missiles at a compound in the village of of Bushnarai in the Shawal area of North Waziristan. Eleven terrorists, including several “foreigners,” a term reserved for al Qaeda operatives, were killed in the attack. In the second strike, four “militants” were killed when Predators hit their vehicle in the village of Qutabkhel.

Pakistani intelligence officials claimed that Saifullah, a Haqqani Network military commander in Afghanistan and a cousin of Siraj, was killed in the Sept. 14 strike in Qutabkhel.

“Afghan Taliban commander Saifullah traveled to the region from Afghanistan three days ago and was killed in yesterday’s US missile strike,” a senior Pakistan security official told AFP. Pakistani intelligence officials based the claim on communications intercepts. The Haqqani Network has not announced Saifullah’s death.

Background on recent strikes

Over the past two weeks, the US has hit targets in northwestern Pakistan at an unprecedented rate. Today’s strike is the 12th since Sept. 1, making September the most active month since the US began launching strikes in Pakistan in 2004. The previous record for the number of strikes in a month was 11 in January 2010. The US launched a string of strikes last January in the aftermath of the suicide attack on a US combat outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer.

With today’s strikes, the US has carried out 66 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 six of this year’s 66 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan. Of the six strikes that have occurred outside of North Waziristan, four took place in South Waziristan, one occurred in Khyber, and one took place in Kurram.

Since July 2008, unmanned US Predator and Reaper strike aircraft have been pounding Taliban and al Qaeda hideouts in the tribal areas 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.]

Background on the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

The Haqqani family runs the Manba Ulom madrassa in the village of Danda Darpa Khel, a hub of activity for the terror group. The US has struck at targets in Danda Darpa Khel six times since Aug. 20, 2009, and eight times since September 2008.

The Haqqanis are closely allied to al Qaeda and to the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar. Siraj Haqqani is the leader of the Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Taliban’s top four commands. In addition, Siraj sits on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura and is also a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis. The Haqqanis are based on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, and operate primarily in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika.

Another top leader of the Haqqani Network is Nasiruddin Haqqani, a brother of Siraj. In July, the US Treasury added Nasiruddin to the list of specially designated global terrorists. Nasiruddin has traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2004-2009 to carry out fundraising for the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.

The US has been targeting the Haqqani Network in Pakistan as part of its Predator air campaign. On Feb. 18, the US killed Mohammed Haqqani, another of the 12 sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, in an airstrike in Danda Darpa Khel, just outside Miramshah. Mohammed had served as a military commander for the Haqqani Network. Over the past year, Siraj Haqqani and his military commander, Mullah Sangeen Zadran, have been the targets of several strikes.

Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on the Haqqani Network or allied Taliban leaders Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir. The Haqqanis, Bahadar, and Nazir are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. The US military has been lobbying Pakistan to take on the Haqqani Network, but has recently eased the pressure after recognizing that the Pakistani government has no interest in tackling the al Qaeda-linked group.

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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