US Predators strike again in North Waziristan

The Ghulam Khan area in Pakistan. Click to view larger map.

US Predators struck again today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, launching two airstrikes in an area right along the border with Afghanistan.

Both strikes took place in the Ghulam Khan area of North Waziristan. In the first strike, the unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers launched missiles at two compounds in the village of Ghulam Khan, killing five people.

The second strike targeted vehicles in the nearby village of Nawab. The Predators made two passes at a group of vehicles. In the second strike, 10 Taliban fighters were reported killed.

“First a US drone fired missiles at a double-cabin pick-up truck and about 15 minutes later two more cars were struck,” a Pakistani intelligence official told Geo News.

No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed in either strike.

The Ghulam Khan area is in the sphere of influence of both Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network. The area is used by the Taliban and other terrorist groups for staging attacks on Coalition and Afghan forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Bahadar is the overall Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.

The Haqqani Network is 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, 2010, 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. Siraj is believed to be sheltering in the neighboring tribal agency of Kurram to avoid the Predators.

The Haqqani Network operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. The US military has heavily targeted the Haqqani Network’s leadership in raids and airstrikes in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

After a 10-day lull in strikes, the US has launched four Predator attacks in North Waziristan in the past two days. Yesterday the US killed 25 Taliban fighters in a pair of strikes in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The US has conducted 11 airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies since the beginning of December.

The pace of the strikes from the beginning of September has been 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 116 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 116 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 62 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks took place against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 56 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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  • Charles says:

    With the sudden increase in strikes after a 10 day lull–Ya think maybe AQ will think that the Haqqani leader now in Pak custody is spilling on them?

  • Mike says:

    From what I understand, most of the pauses and slowdowns in operational tempo are due to poor weather conditions, and little else. It is not as though there is a lack of identifiable targets.

  • Villiger says:

    Mike, very interesting, thank you!
    How easy it is to overlook the simplest of explanations.
    Imagine that must also cause loss of continuity in following trails at times?

  • Cordell says:

    Probably anyone with a vehicle in this area is a likely target; the area is extremely poor and the few that own vehicles are either corrupt officials or Taliban/AQ terrorists. Driving a vehicle with a Reaper overhead is akin to waving a red cape in front of a bull.

  • Erasmus of Rotterdam says:

    Mike, you are correct on the causes for slowdowns. You could also add political issues that arise from time to time.

  • Tim says:

    What are the odds Haqqani’s son wasn’t so much captured than taken into protective custody?

  • Dave says:

    I would be willing to bet the Haqqani bust was a bone from the ISI. That guy is smoking hash in a bar someplace, not in any jail.

  • irish guard says:

    I’m always curious how much information (either subjective or confidential) Bill leaves out of his stories. My guess is Dave is right about some things, yet there are rumors that certain HVTs have been captured, which may have led to these attacks. Either way, I don’t care as long as we are able to take out some bad people.
    OT, a family friend is a deployed SEAL, who I am sure is doing things to these bad people. I am thankful for his service.

  • Rosario says:

    The google maps in this report certainly add perspective. Ghulam Khan sits right on the Duran line, it appears one could throw rocks at it from Afghanistan. It only has 20~30 compounds in a wash of a river. I just don’t understand why after nine years of war Ghulam Khan still exists, or why we need high tech gadgets to hit targets there when 50 year old technology would do the job. More puzzling still is why haven’t the Afghans taken care of this safe haven for people attacking their land.


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