US Predators kill 7 ‘militants’ in al Qaeda hub in North Waziristan

US Predators killed seven “militants” in a Predator strike today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

The unmanned Predators or more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at a compound in the village of Shawa and two vehicles parked outside, according to AFP. The Predators hit a camp known to be used by Afghan refugees who support Taliban operations in Afghanistan, according to the BBC.

“At least seven militants were killed and three wounded,” a Pakistani security official told AFP.

No senior al Qaeda or Taliban operatives have been reported killed in the strike.

Shawa is in the Mir Ali area, which is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda’s external operations network. Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area.

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.

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 have been planning to carry out a terror assault targeting 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. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a host of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region.

Key al Qaeda leaders killed in recent attacks

Al Qaeda and allied terror groups based in Pakistan’s tribal leaders have suffered significant losses since the summer of 2009, beginning with the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who allied with al Qaeda. Since August 2009, al Qaeda has lost two leaders of its operations in the Khorasan (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia): Mustafa Abu Yazid, and his successor Sheikh Fateh al Masri. Yazid also served as al Qaeda’s paymaster and top financial official.

In addition to Yazid and Fateh, Abdullah Said al Libi, who was the leader of al Qaeda’s military, and several members of the military council have been killed in Predator strikes. And some the top leaders of several al Qaeda’s affiliates have also been killed: Abdul Haq al Turkistani, a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis and the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party; Najmuddin Jalolov; the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group; and Tahir Yuldashev the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. [For the full list of al Qaeda leaders killed in the US Predator campaign, see LWJ Special Report, Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]

Despite these devastating losses, al Qaeda has been able to replenish its leadership by recruiting from the ranks of affiliated terror groups based in Pakistan [see Al Qaeda’s #3 misidentified again for more details.]

Operatives such as Mohammed Usman, who was killed last month, have served principal roles in filling the leadership void in al Qaeda caused by the Predator campaign, and have recruited new allies for the local and global jihad. Usman, a Pakistani and longtime jihadist, served as a key aide to Osama bin Laden and as the “spymaster” for Ilyas Kashmiri, and played an important part in uniting al Qaeda with various Pakistani Taliban and jihadist 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 nine 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 84 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 84 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 Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Nazir. The Haqqanis, Bahadar, and Nazir, despite for their support for al Qaeda and other terror groups, are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.

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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2 Comments

  • Setrak says:

    Panetta was recently lobbying Pakistan for more “operational space”. Do you guys know if we got it?

  • Charu says:

    It is too bad that these predator strikes are not being extended to Yemen and Somalia, where Al Qaeda is regrouping. They are clearly effective in disrupting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in AfPak. A few well-timed predator strikes at the ISI and Pakistan’s military; their golf courses and villas to start with, would end the Afghan war pretty quick.

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