Unmanned US attack aircraft killed 13 terrorists in three airstrikes today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strikes took place in the Miramshah, Mir Ali, and Datta Khel areas, all known havens for al Qaeda and allied terror groups.
In the first strike, unmanned Predators or the heavily armed Reapers fired two missiles today at a vehicle traveling in Qutub Khel, a suburb of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, AFP reported. The vehicle was “loaded with arms and ammunition” and detonated in a fireball, the news agency stated. Four “militants” were reported killed in the strike, but no senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported killed.
US Predators launched a similar attack in Qutub Khel on Sept. 14, when two missiles destroyed a vehicle and killed four terrorists.
In the third strike, yet another vehicle was targeted by Predators, this time in the Mir Ali area. Four “militants” were reported killed in the attack.
Miramshah, Datta Khel, and Mir Ali are terrorist strongholds in Pakistan
Today’s strikes take 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 number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region.
The Miramshah area is in the sphere of influence of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban group led by mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. The Haqqanis are closely allied to al Qaeda and to the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar. Siraj Haqqani is the leader of the Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban’s top four commands; he sits on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura; and he is also is a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis. The Haqqanis are based on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The US has targeted Siraj and other top-level Haqqani Network commanders since 2008. On Feb. 18 of this year, the US killed Mohammed Haqqani, another of the 12 sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, in an airstrike in Danda Darpa Khel just outside Miramshah. Mohammed served as a military commander for the Haqqani Network.
The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar also provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
Datta Khel serves as a command and control center for al Qaeda’s top leaders. Several of al Qaeda’s top commanders, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, the chief financial official and commander in Afghanistan, and Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of al Qaeda’s military, have been killed in Predator strikes in Datta Khel in the last year. [For more information on al Qaeda’s presence in Datta Khel, see LWJ report, Latest US Predator strike kills 5 in al Qaeda hub in North Waziristan.]
The Mir Ali area 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.
Since Sept. 8, a total of 16 Germans and two Britons have been reported killed in Predator strikes in the Mir Ali area. The Europeans were members of the Islamic Jihad Group, an al Qaeda affiliate based in the Mir Ali area. The IJU members are believed to be involved in a recently discovered al Qaeda plot that targeted several major European cities and was modeled after the terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
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 leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The Haqqanis and Bahadar are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strikes make for four US attacks in Pakistan in three days. On Nov. 1, a strike in Mir Ali, a large town in North Waziristan, killed six “militants.”
The pace of the strikes since the beginning of September is unprecedented since the US began the air campaign in Pakistan in 2004. September’s record number of 21 strikes was followed by 16 strikes in October. The previous monthly 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 95 attacks inside Pakistan this year, which is more than double the number of strikes in Pakistan just two years ago. A few months 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 a total of 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 95 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.]
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