US Predators strike again in Pakistan’s tribal areas

Unmanned US strike aircraft conducted their second attack today, this time in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

The CIA operated Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers fired a barrage of six missiles at a compound run by a Taliban commander and a vehicle in the village of Spagla in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan, killing six “militants” and wounding five more, AFP reported.

“US drones fired six missiles targeting a militant vehicle and a nearby rebel compound owned by a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] leader, Rahimullah, killing six militants,” a senior Pakistani security official told the news agency.

Spalga is a known hub of Taliban and al Qaeda activity. US Predators have struck targets in the village three other times since December 2009, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. The last strike in the village took place on Feb. 21, 2011, when nine “militants” were killed in an attack on a compound.

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

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, is a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis as well as the Taliban’s Quetta Shura. The US government has placed a $5 million bounty out for Siraj and has placed him on the list of specially designated global terrorists.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

The strike in North Waziristan is the second today. Earlier, US Predators fired four missiles at a vehicle in the Azam Wazsak area in South Waziristan, but missed their target. No one was killed in the strike.

The US has carried out four Predator strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas this month. Two of the four strikes in March have hit targets in North Waziristan, and the other two took place in South Waziristan.

Three of the last seven strikes in Pakistan have taken place in Mullah Nazir’s territory in South Waziristan, indicating a possible shift in focus from the tribal agency of North Waziristan, where the overwhelming majority of the strikes have occurred since January 2010.

A strike on March 8 this year also took place in Nazir’s tribal areas. The previous strike in South Waziristan, on Feb. 20, broke a 28-day-long pause in Predator attacks in Pakistan. A senior al Qaeda operative named Abu Zaid al Iraqi and several members of the Punjabi Taliban are thought to have been killed in the Feb. 20 airstrike.

Many analysts speculated that the long pause in strikes from Jan. 23 to Feb. 20 was related to the shooting deaths in Lahore on Jan. 27 of two Pakistanis by a US consular official who worked for the CIA. 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 recent 28-day 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.]

February 2011 proved to be the slowest month for Predator strikes in a year, with three, since November 2009. The recent slowdown in attacks has occurred after the pace of the strikes picked up from the beginning of September 2010 until the third week in January 2011. September’s record number of 21 strikes was followed by 16 strikes in October, 14 in November, 12 in December, and 9 in January. 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 in 2010, seven were executed in South Waziristan, five were in Khyber, and one was in Kurram. That trend is holding true this year, with 13 of 16 strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan.

Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 78 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 67 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 IJG 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. The campaign has been largely successful in focusing on terrorist targets and avoiding civilian casualties, as recently affirmed by the Pakistani military. [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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  • JT says:

    With a lot of things taking up news time (e.g., Japan, political protests in Wisconsin, unrest in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, bus crash, helicopter crash), this appears to be a prime time to take actions with less attention grabbing.
    Perhaps this partly explains the recent spike of drone attacks.

  • C. Jordan says:

    With everything going on in the world right now. It is good to see our eyes in the sky staying focused.
    We’ll know we are winning when we can deliver polo vaccines to the children.

  • zkuy jio says:

    seven were executed in South Waziristan, five were in Khyber, and one was in Kurram. That trend is holding true this year


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