US Predators kill 3 in North Waziristan

US Predator strike aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, killing three terrorists.

Unmanned Predators or the more heavily armed and deadly Reapers launched a pair of missiles at a vehicle traveling in the village of Norak in the Mir Ali area, AFP reported. Three of the four “militants” traveling in the vehicle were reported killed.

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

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.

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.

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.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

Today’s strike is the 10th US attack in Pakistan this month. Four of those strikes have hit targets in the Mir Ali area.

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 101 attacks inside Pakistan this year, which is more than double the number of strikes in Pakistan just two years earlier. 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 101 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.]

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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  • Eric L says:

    “Unmanned Predators or the more heavily armed and deadly Reapers launched a pair of missiles at a vehicle…AFP reported. **Three of the four** “militants” traveling in the vehicle were reported killed.”
    Can someone explain to me how a person survives after two missiles hit the car they are in? I’ve seen pictures of cars hit with missiles and I can’t comprehend how this happens. Is the CIA reducing the size of the missile’s warhead so much that a person can survive two missile attacks on the vehicle they are traveling in?
    Mind = blown

  • kp says:

    2 missiles from a single drone == a barrage? Come on, Bill. 🙂

    This seems to be an SOP “double tap”.

    Perhaps one to hit/disable the vehicle and occupants. I wonder what the probability of a Hellfire direct strike on a fast vehicle is? Not 100% (rather less than that, I think) but perhaps 100% for a close hit).

    The second hit on a stopped vehicle to make sure the occupants are killed and the vehicle (and it’s contents) are destroyed.

    And other missiles as required to kill “squirters”.

    This Indian report

    says 4 killed and all were Taliban associated with the network of Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar

  • kp says:

    @Eric L:

    Without seeing the video you can’t know for sure. You don’t know the car was hit twice.

    The initial reports are usual KIA + WIA but from later reports on previous attacks we see the WIA often end up as KIA. They survive the blast and frag but not for long. This might be the case here too.

    These weapons are not 100% accurate. That was known from the Iraq War 1 where I think about 60% of Hellfire hit the target. You assume both actually hit the vehicle maybe they didn’t but were close misses. This seems to be the reason for a two hits. Twenty years on the accuracy might be better but it has a “CEP” but as 1m CEP is boasted about for other systems I suspect the Hellfire is 1m CEP range or perhaps a little worse (i.e. 50% of hits in 1m circle … 50% elsewhere). The more recent 1m CEP small weapons like the Scorpion that carry a 3lb warhead rely on putting that very close to the intended target (to minimize collateral damage).

    I doubt warhead size is much different on a Hellfire though the warhead composition might have changed as the targets aren’t armored but in the open, in vehicles and in buildings. I’ve seen Apache gun camera footage of a hellfire hits in Iraq in which people do survive though perhaps wounded but still capable of moving even when in a couple of meters of a car hit by a Hellfire.

    The other problem might be squirters. I near miss knocks out the car and kills some in the occupants but one wounded guy gets out and runs. Another missile is launched at him and that near misses. Again I’ve seen video of Iraq and Afghan attacks.
    A final point is the two missile attack might have been fired because this was a solo Predator (which can only carry 2 Hellfire). Two near misses and no follow up.
    But the later report says 4 dead so this might be a moot point in this case.

  • Walt says:

    There could be a number of reasons why only three of the four terrorist were killed.
    1. Bad Weather
    2. Inaccurate Reporting
    3. If the fourth recipient survived the blast he may as well have wished he were dead.
    4. Or the fourth recipient could have exited the vehicle before the other three were greeted with America’s signature calling card.
    God Bless the Drone Program!

  • BullsEye says:

    there are unconfirmed reports that the Predators have killed a senior level militant Mufti Ali Muhammad.
    Don’t know how reliable the source is though (sify)

  • Walt says:

    Another plausible explanation is:
    The first missile was not a direct hit which allowed one of the recipients time to exit the vehicle.
    If you remember back when the U.S.A finally tracked down al-Zarqawi to a house in Iraq,
    The targeting team had a lazer designator aimed at the building he was in, waiting for the jet pilot above to lock onto the target which he then fired two missiles at the house which blew up but al-Zarqawi was not dead when the troops arrived. It was reported he died after they got there.
    Or maybe one of the troops put a shell into his brain.

  • kp says:

    To be picky about the description of the al-Zarqawi strike. The first strike on the house was with a 500lb GBU-12 laser guided (designated from the F-16 that dropped it) with a follow up of an airburst 500lb JDAM GBU-38 over the target from teh same F-16.

    al-Zarqawi died from pulmonary injuries received from the blast though multiple other people in the house were killed outright.


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