US Predators attacked terrorists in an area of the Pakistani tribal agency of South Waziristan that is under Taliban control. Today’s strike is the first after a nine-day-long lull.
Initial reports indicated that no senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror group leaders or operatives were killed in the airstrike.
But reports from the region indicate that Ilyas Kashmiri, the dangerous al Qaeda leader and the operational commander of the Harkat ul Jihad-Islami was among nine “Punjabis” killed in the strike [see LWJ report, Top al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri killed in US Predator strike].
“Good Taliban” leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
The Wana area, in which today’s strike occurred, is controlled by Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri tribal areas in South Waziristan. Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization.
“Al Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same,” Nazir said. “At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same…. This is wrong that I am anti-al Qaeda. I am part of al Qaeda.”
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.
In the summer of 2009, the military signed a peace agreement with Nazir stipulating that he would not shelter al Qaeda or members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which were based in the Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan. The Pakistani government launched a military operation against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in October 2009, but left Nazir’s areas untouched. Nazir has continued to allow the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other terror groups safe haven in his tribal areas.
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 the 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.
Two other top al Qaeda leaders killed while in Nazir’s care were Osama al Kini (Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam), al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan; and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, one of al Kini’s senior aides. Both men were wanted by the US for their involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In another strike in Nazir’s territory, US Predators also killed Abu Hazwa Jawfi, who is said to have led Jundallah, a Pakistani terror group that is based in Karachi and maintains with close ties with al Qaeda.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is the first this month, and the first since the May 23 attack in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. It is also the first strike in South Waziristan since May 10, when the Predators killed four terrorists, including three “Arabs,” in the town of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan.
Today’s strike is the eighth since US Navy SEALs and CIA operatives raided Osama bin Laden’s safehouse in Abbottabad, far from Pakistan’s tribal areas, on the early morning of May 2.
The US has carried out 29 strikes in Pakistan so far this year, and is well off the pace of the 2010 total of 117 attacks. In 2010, the US more than doubled the number of strikes that had occurred in 2009; by 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 – 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 23 of 29 strikes in 2011 taking place in North Waziristan; the other six strikes have taken place in South Waziristan.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 89 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 74 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.