US Predators strike in South Waziristan

Unmanned US strike aircraft killed five “militants” in an attack in Pakistan’s contested tribal agency of South Waziristan today. The strike is the first in South Waziristan since last year, and ends a long pause in strikes in Pakistan that began on Jan. 24.

The Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired three missiles at a Taliban compound in the village of Kaza Panga, which is about 10 miles west of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, Pakistani officials told AFP.

No senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported killed in the missile attack.

The target of the strike is unclear. The area is controlled by Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri tribal areas in South Waziristan. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state.

Nazir openly supports Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, however, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. Significantly, more senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Nazir’s tribal areas during the US air campaign than in those of any other Taliban leader in Pakistan. Nazir also shelters the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in violation of a peace agreement with the Pakistani government.

In the past, the US has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders in Nazir’s territories. One of the most senior al Qaeda leaders killed was Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, who is better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. Abu Khabab was killed along with four members of his staff in a Predator strike on July 28, 2008.

Today’s strike is also the first in South Waziristan since Sept. 28, 2010. All but four of the strikes since then have occurred in North Waziristan. The other four strikes took place in Khyber.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

Today’s strike is the first since Jan. 23, when the Predators pounded three different targets in North Waziristan. Many analysts speculated that the pause in strikes was related to the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by a US consular official in Lahore on Jan. 27. Pakistan has refused to release the American.

But a look at the Predator strike history shows that there were several long pauses in time between the strikes. The most recent gap was not the longest since the US ramped up the program in August 2008 [See LWJ report, Analysis: Gap in Pakistan Predator strikes not unusual].

January 2011 proved to be the slowest month for Predator strikes in a year, with nine, and February is on track to be slower than January. The recent slowdown in attacks has occurred after the pace of the strikes from the beginning of September 2010 until the end of December picked up. September’s record number of 21 strikes was followed by 16 strikes in October, 14 in November, and 12 in December. 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 carried out 117 attacks inside Pakistan in 2010, more than double the number of strikes that occurred in 2009. By late August 2010, the US had 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 – 2011.]

In 2010 the strikes were concentrated almost exclusively in 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 the 117 strikes took place North Waziristan. Of the 13 strikes occurring outside of North Waziristan, seven were executed in South Waziristan, five were in Khyber, and one was in Kurram. That trend is holding true this year, with all seven strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan.

Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 73 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 65 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes have 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 – 2011.]

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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  • PJ says:

    I have absolutely no idea, but I wonder if there was good enough intelligence indicating that there was a HVT in the compound, considering the lull in attachs since the Davis detention. It’s just one of those things that make you go hmm?

  • JT says:

    Here is an interesting article. Rather than complaining about civilian casualties (which even the Pakistanis are finding difficult to do), this article complains that mostly low level guys are being taken out of the battle.
    If that’s all they have to complain about with regard to the drone strikes, the US is doing something very very well.

  • James says:

    Good news indeed ! Let ’em fly.
    The only reservations I have about the Predator/Reaper program though is that you should never put all your eggs in one basket.
    If you are a baseball pitcher, you shouldn’t keep throwing your best pitch over and over again because believe me sooner than later your opponent will learn how to hit that pitch. (You’ve got to “mix” your pitches.)
    With the Predator program, let’s hope they don’t get to the point of “diminishing returns” too early.
    If you play spades you should never play your trump card too early because if you do sure enough you’ll lose the game.
    You can not win wars ‘in the air’; they have to be won ‘on the ground’.

  • JRP says:

    It looks like the Suicide Bomber has replaced the IED as the weapon of choice for AQ/Taliban. Our drone program usually nets less than 10 KIAs, while a suicide bomber’s detonation nets far more. Our drone program does not seem to get as many HVTs as we would hope, while the enemy’s suicide bomber program, frankly, does not do too bad of a job in netting some important people in the Afghan political/military establishment. In short, we are losing not winning this war of attrition. Clearly we do need to get boots on the ground in the Waziristans. If that is simply not going to happen, then the next best thing is further technological development of the drone program to the point where we have a guided remote-controlled flying bullet that can duck under foliage, see through windows, enter structures, etc. I have no doubt that our scientists are working on such wonder weapons, but will they be deployed in time to prevent the next 9/11 catastrophe? That is the $64,000 question.

  • James says:

    JRP, I can at least see maybe some long-term logic in the CIA’s current drone strategy.
    If you deplete or kill a substantial part of at least the mid-level AQ/Taliban structure, you may be able to just let the upper or more senior level structure “whither away on the vine,” (through death by natural causes, attritition, or accidental explosions, etc.).
    What would be left to replace the more senior and experienced AQ/Taliban cadre? Answer: Only the low level and (hopefully) much less experienced would be available to do so.
    Also, recall the darkest days of the Iraq War. They not only had a multiplicity of suicide bombers, but they also had a multitude of IED’s.
    So, your position that the suicide bombers are (at least) gradually replacing the IED’s IMHO could just be a good thing and a positive development in this war, at least in the short term.
    I believe you are correct though if you are at least suggesting that we should not become over-dependent on a drone attack strategy and we must come up with at least one other (preferably more) effective attack strategy(s).

  • JRP says:

    James . . . With all due respect, I don’t think the CIA could track a bleeding elephant in the snow! Only the Israeli, French and Russian intelligence services are worth anything in my estimation. At every turn, even going back to before 9/11, the CIA has been snookered by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Perhaps I’m being too hard on them, but right now I’m so ticked off regarding the killing of the 4 American yacht sailors. Ever since the attack on the ALABAMA the U.S. has had the necessary cover to go in and end this piracy business, but we don’t act. As Donald Trump said in his recent CNN interview, no one in the World respects the U.S. any longer. The Arabs have no respect for us; the Chinese laugh at us behind our backs; the North Koreans, the Pakistanis, and the Iranians thumb their noses at us. Even the Israelis, when you speak with them privately, are disdainful of the way the U.S. seems to pussyfoot its way around the World these days. This country needs a Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan type President at this time, because as far as I’m concerned, more and more the U.S. is viewed around the World as nothing more than a paper tiger upon whom the Sun is setting while at the same time it is rising on and shining brightly upon China.


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