US Predators killed six “militants,” including four “foreigners,” in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, ending an 11-day-long lull in attacks.
The unmanned, CIA-operated Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the village of Khushali Turikhel in the Mir Ali area, Pakistani intelligence officials told AFP.
“Two locals and four militants of central Asian origin have been killed,” a Pakistani security official told the news agency. The official may be referring to members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or the Turkistan Islamic Party, two al Qaeda-linked groups that are known to be present in the area.
The target of the strike has not been disclosed. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda operatives were reported killed in today’s strike.
The village of Khushali Turikhel is known to have hosted top terrorist leaders in the past. Just over two years ago, on Sept. 14, 2009, Najmuddin Jalalov, the former leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, an al Qaeda-linked offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was killed in a US strike in the same village. Ilyas Kashmiri was also thought to have been present during the strike that killed Jalalov.
Today’s strike takes place as the US and Pakistan are waging a war of words over the latter’s support of the Haqqani Network, the al Qaeda-linked Taliban subgroup that is based in Miramshah in North Waziristan. Several US officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen have accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of directly supporting Haqqani Network attacks inside Afghanistan. Most recently, the US said that the ISI aided the Haqqani Network in attacking the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul.
Mir Ali is a terrorist haven
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda’s external operations network. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area. Moreover, Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils.
Since Sept. 8, 2010, a total of 16 Germans and two Britons have been reported killed in Predator strikes in the Mir Ali area. The Europeans were members of the Islamic Jihad Group, an al Qaeda affiliate based in the vicinity of Mir Ali. The IJG members are believed to have been involved in an al Qaeda plot that targeted several major European cities and was modeled after the terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
Mir Ali also hosts at least three suicide training camps for the the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Earlier this year, a Fedayeen-i-Islam spokesman claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers have trained at three camps. One failed suicide bomber corroborated the Fedayeen spokesman’s statement, stating that more than 350 suicide bombers trained at his camp.
Over the past year, the US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill members involved in the European plot. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strike is the second in Pakistan’s tribal areas this month, and the first in 11 days. The last strike, on Sept. 11, took place in North Waziristan, and killed Abu Hafs al Shahri, whom US intelligence officials have described as al Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan.
The pace of the US strikes has been uneven over the past year, and the monthly strike totals have generally decreased. From January through August 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, three in July, and six in August. 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 51 strikes in Pakistan. In 2010, the US carried out 117 strikes, which 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, 33 of the 51 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 17 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place in Kurram.
Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 113 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 86 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes have targeted cells run by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Islamic Jihad Group, which have plotted 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.