Unmanned US strike aircraft struck again in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, killing three “militants.”
Remotely piloted Predator strike aircraft, or the more deadly Reapers, fired two missiles today at a compound owned by Qasim Khan in the village of Hormuz near Mir Ali, the second largest town in North Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials said that five “militants” were killed, according to Dawn News.
The Taliban immediately surrounded the compound and began recovery operations. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban operatives were reported killed in the strike.
Today’s strike is the second today. Earlier, US aircraft killed six “militants” in Miramshah, the stronghold of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network.
The strike is also the second in Mir Ali in three days. On Oct. 4, Predators hit a mosque in the town, killing between five and eight German nationals belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Germans are thought to be of Turkish origin. Some reports indicated that Arabs may also have been killed in the Oct. 4 strike.
Today’s strike takes place as the US is seeking to disrupt a plot by al Qaeda modeled after the Mumbai terror assault. Al Qaeda operatives were to carry out a terror assault that was to target several major European cities. The plot is said to have been ordered by Osama bin Laden.
The US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill members involved in the European plot.
Mir Ali is a key al Qaeda hub in North Waziristan
The town of Mir Ali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an Iraqi national who is also known as Abu Akash. He has close links to the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Jihad Group, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Islamic Jihad Group is based out of the Mir Ali region.
Abu Kasha serves as the key link between al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, and the Taliban. His responsibilities have expanded to assisting in facilitating al Qaeda’s external operations against the West.
The Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar also have influence in the Mir Ali region, and host camps and safe houses for al Qaeda and other terror groups.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
The pace of the strikes since the beginning of September is unprecedented since the US began the air campaign in Pakistan in 2004. The 21 strikes in September is a record number, and with five strikes already in October, the US appears to be prepared to match last month’s pace. 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 80 attacks inside Pakistan this year, which is more than double the number of strikes in Pakistan just two years ago. The US exceeded last year’s strike total of 53 with a strike in Kurram in late August. 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 nine of this year’s 80 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan. Of the nine strikes that have occurred outside of North Waziristan, seven 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.]
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 intentions of moving in North Waziristan.
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