US Predators strike again in Pakistan, kill 9 ‘militants’

US Predators struck again in Pakistan’s lawless tribal agencies today, this time in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Nine “militants” were reported killed in the second strike in two days.

The latest strike took place in the town of Spalga (also known as Aspalga) in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan. Unmanned US Predators, or the more deadly Reapers, fired four missiles at a compound in the town, according to Dawn.

Local Pakistani officials claimed that nine “militants,” a term used to describe Taliban or al Qaeda fighters, were killed. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda fighters have been reported killed in the attack.

The town of Spalga is located in the sphere of influence of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban group closely allied to al Qaeda and a favorite of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. The Haqqani Network shelters and supports al Qaeda, and launches attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces across the border.

US Predators have struck in Spalga two other times in the past; once on Dec. 14, 2010, and the first time on Dec. 8, 2009.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

Today’s strike is the second in two days. A strike yesterday in South Waziristan was the first in Pakistan 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 have been 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 74 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 66 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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