US Predators struck for the third day straight in Pakistan’s lawless and Taliban controlled tribal agencies.
The unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers struck a compound in the town of Azam Warsak in South Waziristan. Initial reports indicated the strike aircraft fired three missiles at a compound, killing five, according to AFP. Later reports at The Nation and Xinhua indicated that 16 Taliban members, including a senor commander, were killed.
Mullah Shamsullah, the Taliban commander who was reported killed, served as the spokesman for Mullah Nazir, as well as his second in command.
“He was an important and the strongest Taliban leader in Wana and literally ruled on behalf of al Qaeda leader Mullah Nazir in the area,” according to Xinhua. While Nazir is not an al Qaeda leader, he is closely allied to the terror group and provides aid and shelter to its top leaders and fighters.
Azam Warsak, which is directly on the border with Afghanistan, is under the control of 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 US has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders in Nazir’s territories. One of the most senior al Qaeda leaders killed was Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, who is better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. Abu Khabab was killed along with four members of his staff in a July 28, 2008 Predator strike.
Abu Khabab served as the chief of al Qaeda’s weapons of mass destruction program, known as Project al Zabadi. He is best known for running a training camp at Derunta in Afghanistan, where he conducted experiments on animals to determine the effectiveness of chemical weapons. Khabab was also a master bomb-marker, and passed his skills onto his associates.
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. Today’s strike is the second in two days, and the 16th this month.
The US has carried out 70 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 seven of this year’s 70 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan. Of the seven strikes that have occurred outside of North Waziristan, five took place in South Waziristan, one occurred in Khyber, and one took place in Kurram. Today’s strike was the first in South Waziristan since July 25.
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.
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The cynical side of me thinks that the recent increase in strikes could be a desperate attempt to kill UBL or Zawahiri before the next national US elections. Obama needs a victory of some kind very badly.
Regardless, I’m glad to see it happening. We should have been hitting them in Pakistan like this for the past five years.
You know Brian that’s just what the Democrats were saying two years ago. 🙂
But more on topic. The Azam Warsak region has been hit before. But not since 2008.
Azam Warsak is a town (and region) west of Wana and a high valley (5000 feet) leading to Afghanistan.
Another attack on the Uzbeks? IMU? That would be following a current pattern. Or some other group? Or a HVT?
For example see this from 2007/8 when the IMU was annoying the locals (and perhaps the other Taliban and AQ)
I was actually thinking the exact same thing at work. It’s still surprising, the number of missile attacks this month, but it was the offensive launched by Yemen supposedly targeting Anwar al-Awlaki that gave me the thought. It didn’t seem to me like Yemen was particularly interested in killing or capturing him for a while, so pressure may have been applied on the government recently to go after him.
Honestly, even if both of these are intended to be some kind of “October Surprise” for the elections, (Obama administration trying to rack up a few W’s) I hope a lot of bad guys are taken out soon. I just also hope that it doesn’t die down after the elections, no matter who wins.
I’m still hoping that the CIA has just either gotten some good intelligence leads recently and is acting on them or is trying to disrupt the enemy’s command and control over their operations in Afghanistan, and that the Yemen offensive timing is just a coincidence and that al-Awlaki is taken out.
While I’m sure Obama wouldn’t mind to kill UBL in the next month, first of all that won’t happen because he’s sitting pretty in an ISI safehouse receiving dialysis and watching TV and eating whatever he wants, and second of all, I think the standing orders are to act on any good intelligence as it comes in, regardless of the political calendar.
Yes the Obama administration needs a win but I think this is mostly a direct result of General Petreus taking over. He may have stipulated what he wants before he took over command. We know he was going to change the ground rules and this maybe part of the result.
Also, the successes in Iraq have led the Obama administration to fullfill their obligation to pull out. This has done two things 1) shown that they do mean to a pull out date – which gives a deadline (not that i agree with the strategy) so may be the people we are winning over see a good thing about to leave (wishful thinking) 2) with the Iraq theater slowing down more focus can be placed in Afganistan and Pakistan.
Once we feel that we have some control and enough impeded intelligence. We can transition to Phase III of the Middle East peace plan – Iran.
Added to previous comment:
However, Phase III – Iran: will not happen under Obama’s or a Democrat in the White House. So we will have to wait until 2012 (assuming a Republican will be elected). Or with a Republican Majority in Congress and the Senate if that happens.
Regarding speculation about intel and the reasons for the recent surge in strikes: another possibility is that they are trying to prevent an attack during the Commonwealth Games coming up in a week and a half.
I, too, think it is likely a byproduct – however reluctantly developed – of installing two highly experienced and high profile “fight as long as it takes to win” generals to lead Centcom and ISAF. Both of whom are more than willing to unleash a CIA and SOF enabling operation hungry for revenge.
The increased pace of strikes in Pakistan likely reflects a number of factors. Most importantly, the U.S. has been dramatically ramping up UAV production, personnel and infrastructure over the last several years. With many more UAVs flying overhead and covering more territory, more targets are spotted and hit. In addition, Pakistan probably has given the U.S. tacit approval to hit all targets of opportunity following the floods there. (Past reports suggest that, up until now, a Pakistani officer embedded with U.S. UAV operators signed off on each strike beforehand. Operating on a case-by-case approval basis undoubtedly meant some lost opportunities.) In addition, the Taliban has made threats against relief efforts while the government has put its own military operations on hold to address fully the ongoing disaster. Providing aid to win or hold public support against the Taliban in the NWFT/FATA is critical to Pakistan’s own success in this war. Finally, these strikes help disrupt the Taliban’s command and control structure, giving the U.S. a stronger position in its Afghan “surge” operations and providing some “covering fire” for the recent Afghanistan elections. While America’s Afghan timetable is obviously political, politics probably play only a minor, indirect role here.
And it could be the Afghani “Counterterrorist Pursuit Team” are being more effective on both sides of the Waziristan border. I could see the CIA-run Afghan paramilitary units blending in quite well across all of “Pashtunistan”.
One reason to say this was an earlier comment (on a NW strike) the “intelligence source” commented that they’d seen this guy on both sides of the border. One method for picking them up is night time surveillance and looking along the regular routes they use between Afghanistan and NW/SW. The topography puts some constraints on their movement (especially in SW).