US Predators struck inside Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today after a lull in attacks that lasted for more than a week.
Unmanned Predators or the more heavily armed and deadly Reapers fired four missiles at a vehicle and a compound in the village of Khysore in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.
“First the US drone fired two missiles on a militant vehicle and two of the occupants were killed, while three others escaped and hid in a shop adjacent to a house,” AFP reported. “The drone fired two more missiles on the shop and three of them were killed and three others were wounded.”
Five Taliban fighters were reported killed, but no senior al Qaeda or Taliban fighters have been reported killed in the strike.
The Datta Khel area of North Waziristan is under the influence of Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar. 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.]
This year, the US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill al Qaeda members involved in a plot to carry out Mumbai-styled terror assaults on European soil. 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.
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 Bahadar or the Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis 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 strike is the first US attack in Pakistan this month, and the first since the Nov. 28 strike 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 and 14 more in November. 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 106 attacks inside Pakistan this year, doubling last year’s number of strikes. In late August, the US exceeded last year’s strike total of 53 with a strike in Kurram. 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.]
This year the strikes have been confined almost exclusively to North Waziristan. All but nine of this year’s 106 strikes have taken place in that tribal agency. 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.
Since Sept. 1, the US has ramped up airstrikes against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 51 strikes Predator strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes targeted cells run by the Islamic Jihad Group, which have been plotting to conduct the Mumbai-styled terror assaults in Europe. A Sept. 8 strike killed an IJU commander known as Qureshi, who specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.
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.]