Unmanned US attack aircraft struck twice in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, killing 14 Haqqani Network, Uzbek, and Taliban fighters.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly and capable Reapers first struck in the village of Dashgah in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. Four missiles were fired at a compound, killing 10, according to SAMAA.
The second strike took place in the village of Inzarkas, a little more than a mile from Dashgah, according to AFP. The Predators or Reapers fired two missiles at a vehicle, killing four. The strike on a vehicle so close to the scene of the first attack indicates that leaders or fighters were fleeing the scene of that attack when they were hit.
The targets of the strikes have not been disclosed, and no senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed at this time.
Haqqani Network and Uzbek fighters are reported to have been killed in the first attack in Dashgah, according to AFP.
Datta Khel is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. 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.
Datta Khel area is an al Qaeda hub
The Datta Khel region has been targeted intensively by the US, especially in the past several weeks. Twelve out of the last 23 strikes have taken place in Datta Khel. The US has conducted 20 airstrikes in the Datta Khel region this year, or 26 percent of its current total of 68 airstrikes in Pakistan in 2010.
Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, or al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel.
Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been targeted and killed in Datta Khel. A strike on Dec. 17, 2009, targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army or Lashkar al Zil, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, were both killed in the attack.
But the most significant attack in Datta Khel took place on May 21 this year and resulted in the death of Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Yazid served as the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the wider Khorasan, a region that encompasses portions of Pakistan, Iran, and several Central Asian states. More importantly, Yazid was as al Qaeda’s top financier, which put him in charge of the terror group’s purse strings. He served on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or top decision-making council. Yazid also was closely allied with the Taliban and advocated the program of embedding small al Qaeda teams with Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
The US is thought to have killed Sheikh Fateh al Masri, Yazid’s replacement as al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the Sept. 25 strike in Datta Khel. Al Qaeda has not confirmed Fateh’s death, however.
In addition to the al Qaeda leaders killed in the Predator attacks in Datta Khel, the US has killed an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commander named Qureshi and eight Germans and two Britons, in a strike in Datta Khel on Sept. 8. The commander, Qureshi, specialized in training Germans to return to their home country to carry out attacks. The IMU commander and fighters are thought to be linked to a recently exposed plot to carry out Mumbai-like terror assaults in major European cities. The plot is said to have been ordered by Osama bin Laden.
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 two strikes already this month, 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 77 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 77 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.]