The US launched two airstrikes today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strikes are the first in 10 days, and the first in the Mir Ali area in a month.
In the first strike, unmanned Predators or the more heavily armed and deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a compound and four more missiles at two vehicles in the village of Sher Tala in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, according to Geo News. One of the vehicles is said to have been laden with explosives and ammunition, “magnifying the blasts from the missile attacks,” Al Jazeera reported. Pakistani intelligence officials said that 21 “rebels” were killed. Pakistani officials often refer to al Qaeda or allied Central Asian terrorists as rebels.
The second strike occurred hours later in the village of Machikhel in the Mir Ali area. Four more Taliban fighters were killed in an attack on a vehicle.
No senior al Qaeda or Taliban fighters have been reported killed in either of the strikes.
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. In addition to al Qaeda, Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area.
In 2010, 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.
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 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 strikes are the first since the US launched three attacks in the Tirah Valley in the tribal agency of Khyber on Dec. 17. In those attacks, 54 Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam fighters were killed.
The US has carried out nine airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies since the beginning of December.
The pace of the strikes from the beginning of September up to the end of November was 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. The suicide bombing at COP Chapman killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer.
The US has carried out 114 attacks inside Pakistan in 2010, more than doubling the number of strikes in 2009. In late August 2010, the US exceeded 2009’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.]
In 2010 the strikes have been confined almost exclusively to North Waziristan, where the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and a host of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups are based. All but 13 of this year’s 114 strikes have taken place North Waziristan. Of the 13 strikes that have occurred outside of North Waziristan, seven took place in South Waziristan, five occurred in Khyber, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 60 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks took place against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 54 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes targeted cells run by the Islamic Jihad Group, which have been plotting to conduct 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.]
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