US Predators struck for the first time in 19 days in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies today, killing four “militants” in an attack in South Waziristan.
The unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the Azam Warzak area of South Waziristan, according to AFP.
No senior commanders from the Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror groups based in the area are reported to have been killed.
Today’s attack in South Waziristan took place in an area of South Waziristan that is controlled by Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Waziri tribal areas. Azam Warzak is on the border with Afghanistan, and is a transit point for Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorists heading to and from Pakistan’s war-torn neighbor. Senior al Qaeda leaders are also thought to shelter in Azam Warzak.
“Good Taliban” leader Mullah Nazir also an al Qaeda leader
Mullah 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.
The US believes it killed Abu Zaid al Iraqi during a Feb. 20, 2010 airstrike in Azam Warzak. Abu Zaid is said to be al Qaeda’s top financier in Pakistan.
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 close ties with al Qaeda.
Also, Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of al Qaeda’s Lashkar-al-Zil, or Shadow Army, is reported to have been killed in a June 3 Predator strike in Nazir’s tribal areas. Kashmiri’s death has not been confirmed, however.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is the first in Pakistan’s tribal areas this month, and the first since July 12, when a “hideout of al Qaeda-linked terrorists” was struck in the Birmal area of South Waziristan, killing eight terrorists.
From January through June 2011, the strikes in Pakistan were as follows: nine strikes in January, three strikes in February, seven in March, two in April, seven in May, 12 in June, and three in July. In the last four months of 2010, the US averaged almost 16 strikes per month (21 in September, 16 in October, 14 in November, and 12 in December).
So far this year, the US has carried out 44 strikes in Pakistan, and is well off the pace of the 117 attacks that took place in 2010. In 2010, the US more than doubled the number of strikes that had 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. This year, an increasing number of strikes are taking place in South Waziristan. So far in 2011, 27 of the 44 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 16 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 105 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 81 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.