Why has the US ramped up attacks in North Waziristan?

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In a report at the Christian Science Monitor that attempts to explain why the US has ramped up Predator/Reaper attacks in North Waziristan, there is a great description of the strength of al Qaeda and allied groups in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency:

According to US estimates, there are about 2,000 Al Qaeda militants in the region. Their main hideouts, the prime target of US drones in the spring, are located in the mountains between Miramshah and the Afghan border. Additionally, there are Uzbeks, Chinese Uighurs, Chechens, and Tajik militants collaborating in North Waziristan.

It is estimated that around 3,000 Uzbeks (not to mention a number of militants belonging to other Central Asian states) have taken shelter in the region.

Since last year’s killing of Tahir Yledeshev, chief of the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement, there have been splinters, but Uzbeks mainly fight alongside TTP leaders.

There is also a group of hundreds of militants belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist extremist movement of Uighurs fighting against China for the independence of Xingjian Province. The commander, known as Abdul Shakoor, succeeded Abdul Haq al-Turkestani after he was killed in a drone attack early this year.

So, as you can see, North Waziristan is what is called a target-rich environment.

The report also goes on to note that many Arabs and North Africans, as well as the “Punjabi Taliban” (the mish-mash of members of Pakistani terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, etc.) are sheltering in the region. And they are doing so with the direct support of Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqanis, which the Pakistani establishment (read: the military and ISI) refuses to deal with as these groups are so-called “good Taliban.”

The sheltering and supporting of jihadists in North Waziristan by Bahadar and the Haqqanis is something we’ve hammered away at for years here at LWJ. If you look at the 5th and 6th charts at LWJ‘s Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010 page, you’ll see that strikes in territory controlled by Bahadar and the Haqqanis make up the majority of this year’s strikes; in fact, 51 of 67, or 76 percent, hit targets in turf run by the Haqqanis and Bahadar.

Keep in mind that there are three primary targets of these strikes:

1) top al Qaeda and allied movement commanders;

2) al Qaeda’s external operations network; and

3) al Qaeda/Taliban/allied groups who carry out attacks Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Often there is an intersection of these three groups (a senior al Qaeda leader can facilitate attacks by the external operations branch as well as direct attacks in Afghanistan – see Mustafa Abu Yazid, for instance). As there is usually little information in the public domain about the exact targets of the airstrikes, we are left guessing as to the motivations for a spike in strikes. The US may be upping the ante against the Haqqani Network and the Taliban who carry out operations in Afghanistan, and this can have the added effect of disrupting al Qaeda’s external operations network at the same time, or vice versa, given how these terror networks are often interlinked.

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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10 Comments

  • gbl says:

    The reason for the recent uptick in activity is not really hard to discern. There are upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan. Disrupt the disrupters and there plans to disrupt the election may come unhinged. Reading between the lines on the ISAF site, this explains a lot of the uptick in Eastern Afghanistan and in Notrh Waziristan.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Great reporting Bill. As usual.

  • Apache says:

    One wonders why the Chinese and Russians are not participating by sending Special Ops into the area?

  • kp says:

    Apache: Into which area? This “area” is North Waziristan in Pakistan.

    The other nations are operating on their home turf (one reason why the Islamists are in NW and AFPAK where its safer to operate).

    The Uzbeks operate along their border with Afghanistan recently doing a hammer and anvil with IMU+Taliban fleeing over the border from ISAF forces (LWJ reported this). I’m sure other bordering states (except Iran and Pakistan) are doing the same.

    One recent comment on To the Point on NPR was indicating that there are SF operating in Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan observing and tracking movement and suggested another hammer and anvil strategy along the AFPAK border.

    BTW, if anyone wants to see how complicated the AFPAK border is take a look in Google maps satellite view. It includes great oddities like this 7 mile long reentrant of a (what I presume is a Afghan valley) “over the border” into Pakistan.
    //maps.google.com/maps?client=safari&q=north+waziristan,+pakistan&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF8&ei=F7ySTPirA5SesQO48YDACg&ved=0CBQQ_AU&hq=&hnear=Federally+Administered+Tribal+Areas,+Pakistan&ll=31.744518,68.532715&spn=0.554142,0.63446&t=h&z=11

  • kp says:

    The article also indicates how you can tell apart different groups in IMGINT by the styles of dress, interactions with locals, weapons carried and vehicles they prefer. e.g.

    The Punjabi Taliban – so named for their roots out of southern Punjab, and distinguishable by the fact that their members do not speak Pashto and traditionally have ties with groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed – now operate out of North Waziristan and fight alongside Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda. With shoulder-length hair, and armed with Kalashnikovs and rockets, these young militants roam around in four-wheel-drive jeeps.

    “They are loud and short-tempered and fight among themselves. They show off, unlike Arabs who are generally quiet, maintain a low profile, and mostly use ordinary cars like us,”

  • DANNY says:

    Seems so sad that, this site who as I see reporting the truth about this long war, would think they need to hammer a fact, a reality on the ground with AQ to the American people. What is wrong with our main stream media that they are so quick to parrot propaganda of those sworn to destroy us. I come here to real news not propaganda. I get enough of that watching my local TV. Keep reporting the truth LWJ and hammer as you must. For all you Americans who believe what you hear on your local TV, better hang on to your butts, this war ain’t going away.

  • MIke says:

    Following on DANNY’s comment –
    One can really appreciate a vigilant source of reporting at times when mainstream media is not really paying attention.
    I like actually being able to follow the war.

  • Charles says:

    It would be nice if they could keep up the pace–and accuracy of the attacks they’ve been doing for the last week or so — for a couple of months–or even a year.
    Since we’re only talking about 5000+ AQ & related fighters –it wouldn’t take too much continuous pounding before they found their number seriously depleted.

  • Jimmy says:

    Genocidal tendencies of the Pakistan Army is once again on display in the Khurram Agency. It has absolutely no problems bombarding and shelling its own minority population while supporting the Haqquani Network:
    //ramanstrategicanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/09/haqqani-network-in-parachinar.html

  • Don Vandervelde says:

    To end the war most expeditiously, N. Waz. must be pacified by an allied forces thrust, including Afghan-Northern Alliance and Indian Mountain troops, backed up by intense Nato air support. Then, in due course, returned to the Paks when they are willing and able to take responsibility for it. Otherwise we’ll just be playing whack-the-mole indefinitely at great cost in blood and treasure.

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