US Predators launch 3 more strikes in Khyber, killing 54 ‘terrorists’

US Predators launched attacks in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Khyber for the second day straight. Fifty-four “terrorists” were reported killed in three separate strikes in an area of Khyber known to host the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Unmanned Predator strike aircraft, or the more deadly Reapers, fired missiles at two compounds in the villages of Shandana and Speen Drang in the Tirah Valley, and at a safe house in the village of Nakai in Malik Deen Khel. Fifteen “terrorists” were killed in the Nakai strike, seven were killed in Shandana, and 32 members of the Lashkar-e-Islam were killed in Speen Drang, according to reports in SAMAA, Dawn, and the Associated Press.

The targets of the strikes are unclear. According to CNN, Ali Marjan, a commander of the Lashkar-e-Islam, a Taliban-like group based in Khyber, was among those killed during a meeting of the Lashkar-e-Islam. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed in the strike.

Today’s three strikes follow another strike in Khyber yesterday, which also hit a target in the Tirah Valley. Seven Taliban fighters from Swat and South Waziristan were reported killed in yesterday’s strike.

The strikes in Khyber signal a possible shift in the Predator campaign. Prior to the four strikes in Khyber over the past two days, there has been only one other attack in the tribal agency since the US began its air campaign in 2004. On May 15, 2010, Predators fired at truckloads of jihadists in the Tirah Valley, killing 15 fighters.

This year 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 112 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.

Khyber agency is a terrorist haven

Khyber has become a hub of Taliban and al Qaeda activity since the Pakistani military launched an operation in the Mehsud tribal areas in South Waziristan in October 2009. Taliban forces have relocated to the Bara and Jamrud regions and the Tirah Valley in the Khyber agency [see LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation].

Tariq Afridi, a powerful Taliban commander based in Darra Adam Khel, has taken control of Taliban operations in Khyber. The Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam, a local Taliban ally commanded by Mangal Bagh, have gained power in Khyber despite a series of Pakistani military operations that began in the summer of 2007 which were supposedly designed to relieve Taliban pressure on neighboring Peshawar. A total of five military offensives have failed to dislodge the terror groups.

Both the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Islam are known to operate bases and training camps in the Tirah Valley as well as in Bara and Jamrud. These safe havens in Khyber enable these terror groups to launch attacks inside Pakistan as well across the border in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. In November 2008, the US military attacked Taliban forces in the Tirah Valley after they retreated across the border from Nangarhar in Afghanistan. US strike aircraft and artillery killed seven Taliban fighters during the hot pursuit.

The Khyber Pass is NATO’s main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; an estimated 70 percent of NATO’s supplies move through this strategic crossing point. Between September 2007 and April 2008, the Khyber Pass was shut down seven times due to Taliban attacks.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

The pace of the Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas has slowed over the past two weeks, with just four strikes between Nov. 29 and Dec. 16. But with four strikes in the past two days, the pace has picked back up. The US has now launched seven attacks in Pakistan this month.

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. In the bombing at COP Chapman, seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed.

The US has carried out 112 attacks inside Pakistan this year, more than 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.]

Since Sept. 1, the US has conducted 58 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks took place against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 52 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.]

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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  • bullseye says:

    I wonder if these strikes are related to the latest Christmas terror threats emanating from the important detaining of what this article* calls the “the main structure” of AQ in Iraq. If that IS the case, just how much power does AQ in Iraq still have?

  • skykingskyking says:

    Drone lawsuit
    Officials: CIA station chief pulled from Islamabad

  • Scott says:

    I read from an AP article that 54 “militants” were killed. That is major. I don’t remember ever hearing of those kinds of numbers. Any word on this Bill?

  • Doc Savage says:

    Excellent news. Let the sky rain fire on the bad guys, wherever they may be. Turn it up to 11!

  • Bear says:

    Now that’s more like it!!

  • Eric L says:

    Whoa… There has got to be a HVT in that pile.

  • Villiger says:

    Expect some special presents for these guys around the New Year anniversary of Chapman. They won’t be wrapped-up in pretty pink ribbons.
    Btw, how prudish of the American press to not name the CIA station chief in Islam-a-bad when around the world this is common press. So prim and cute!

  • Bear says:

    i think skykingskyking is onto it. sounds like the CIA are making a statement with this attack!?! does that sound likey??

  • kimball says:

    More interesting, are all the toyotas gifted from UAE
    fitted with GPS transmitter?

  • JRP says:

    Recently, perhaps today 12/17/2010, a MCT News Reporting journalist reported matter-of-factly that AQ’s leadership (Bin Laden and Zawahiri) is known to be in Karachi . . . Somewhere in the central business district or near the port area. This wasn’t even the centerpiece of the article, which was a report on the President’s analysis the other day of the war to date in Afghanistan. Has LWJ or anyone else who regularly comments here heard anything about this?

  • jayc says:

    “..32 members of the Lashkar-e-Islam were killed.”
    “…commander of the Lashkar-e-Islam, … was among those killed during a meeting…”
    Sounds like the Islamic Army got invited to a BYOM
    (Bring Your Own Missile) party.

  • gwestdallas says:

    The terrorists can’t plan attacks when they are worried about being attacked themselves. Like a stiff jab in boxing,these attacks keep our enemy off balance and on guard. Keep up the excellent work.

  • weaponsgrade says:

    I wonder how significant is the intelligence that Pakistan is giving up. Anyone of “real” significance? We are killing a lot bad guys with all
    kind of titles/rank within in the Taliban and al Qaeda. But I get the feeling most of these are
    want-a-bees. The day Pakistan gives up/cough ups
    real intelligence on the big fish is the day the war might be turning in our favor.

  • Exactly says:

    It seems to me a small Nuke strategicly placed would be more appropriate.
    But than, on the other hand, these Drone missiles must carry quite a wallop for their guests.

  • Bear says:

    here’s what this sounds like – (from the NY times)
    1) American officials believe that ISI officers helped plan the deadly July 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as provided support to Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who carried out the Mumbai attacks later that year.
    The lawsuit filed in Brooklyn last month, brought by families of American victims of the Mumbai attacks, names the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, as being complicit in the attacks. The suit asserts that General Pasha and other ISI officers were

  • Swede says:

    Sheer speculation, but is it at all plausible that the HVTs in some of these strikes could be ISI officers meeting groups like Lashkar-e-Islam?

  • Zeissa says:

    Keep up the attacks, even if all they do is kill entry-grade mercenaries and jihadists and even auxiliary troops (in western terms ‘family’). Make them used to the idea of getting bombed and they’ll complain at the same screeching, hyperbolic level as if it was less.

  • Bullseye says:

    This may sound like another kind of bull, but given the reports of Ilyas Kashmiri/AQ plan to launch an offensive next year in South Waziristan, it may help if there are at least 5 more strikes like this one which kill at least 50 – 60 terrorists each time.
    It may be easy to find recruits, but how long does it take to train them to die for your cause? All that time, money (from OBL) and effort to train 250 guys who die within a month; there goes an “army” that could have taken part in any future strategic offensives in Af-Pak.
    Just a thought.

  • Charu says:

    General Pasha was openly known to be the ISI chief (just as his predecessor, General Kayani, had been). Therefore, this leak by the ISI was purely malicious and intended to place the station chief’s life in jeopardy. Since previous CIA station chiefs in Islamabad have always gone to bat for the Pakistani military, it is striking how far the ISI tail is willing to wag the CIA dog. Going by precedence, we will now roll over and shower them with more money and arms. With “friends” like this, who needs Al Qaeda?

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    To be able to track, then attack that many fighters meant the intel was very good. I wonder wat morale is like for the jihadists? You move-you die. The “hunters” are turning up the heat. The raids, the strikes are taking a toll. Good news.

  • blert says:

    The army of islam and the army of the pure are apparently separate regiments of non-official cover unlawful combatants under the wing of the ISI.
    Plunging temperatures are causing the FATA crowd to bunch up.
    It is in the nature of their ‘security’ approach that they will set up micro-garrisons. Thusly, those within its walls are clear cut bad guys.
    Based upon the scale of their clan support it is reasonable to guess that the opfor concentration was a ‘convention’ of fanatics, very festive, even.
    At the moment of impact it is easy to imagine them saying their prayers. This would cause non-affiliated players to be somewhere else while the ‘hand of allah’ visits the jihadis.
    Since the opfor loves to hatch new masks/ cover nics it’s a real head scratcher for us civilians trying to keep up.

  • Villiger says:
    Please read the first comment at Bill’s blog on the subject of lawfare and predators.
    On the matter of the legal case,the magnitude of the claim,half a billion US, makes the case clearly frivolous. At $50 million, it may have appeared genuine.
    This whole thing clearly has ISI’s grubby finger-marks all over it.
    To begin with, the US should cut off the ISI hand that takes its money. If thats not enough, it should cut off the other hand by bombing ISI’s HQ.
    Fight a war the way its supposed to be fought, or get out and let nature take its course.
    Doom or be doomed! Pakistan may be a populous country, but it doesn’t add up to much.

  • Maverick says:

    What a weapon the Predator must be saving hundreds of allied ljves

  • Civy says:

    I know its hard to swallow ‘defeats’ like COP Keating, but it looks to me like we don’t need whole COPs as tripwires in an age where we have persistent intel and surveillance from drones and human intel. (In fact, it kind of makes me wonder how necessary foot patrols are, as they account for a lot of KIA)
    Instead of making ourselves sitting ducks in rather inhospitable places, waiting for the enemy to mass, and then bringing the pain to them en’masse, seems to be a lot more effective. As a benefit, the guys that used to man COPs are now living more comfortably, and where they can protect important civilian populations.

  • Luca says:

    Just a reminder to all of you who still confuse Iraq with Iran and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI). Guess what? They are not the same thing!

  • Don Vandervelde says:

    Just a note, this thread of truly astute comments collectively shows more insight than I’ve seen. Compliments to all, and thanks. It should be required reading for all our strategists and tacticians. Cheers, Don

  • Sean says:

    @ Civy
    The drones have been a huge asset to our arsenal. Decimating Taliban linked groups like Lashkar-e-Islam by these means is vital to the war effort.
    However, abandoning COPs wouldn’t be prudent for our ultimate strategy of securing Afghanistan. COP Keating was unequivocally FUBAR, but that does not mean we shouldn’t have COPs at all. Keating, and Wanat valley before it, was a result of poor logistical planning


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