US Predators struck today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, killing six “militants” in the first recorded strikes in nearly two weeks.
In the first strike, the unmanned, CIA-operated Predators, or the more deadly Reapers, fired a pair of missiles in the village of Danda Darpa Khel just outside Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, according to AFP. Pakistani officials said that three “militants” were killed in the attack.
A Haqqani Network “coordinator” named Jalil and two fighters were killed in the airstrike, according to The Associated Press. Jamil is said to be related to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. AFP reported, however, that Jamil was not related to Siraj but was “very close” to the commander. Jamil was later identified as Jan Baz Zadran, who US intelligence officials described as the Haqqani Network’s third in command [see LWJ report, US kills Haqqani Network’s 3rd in command in North Waziristan strike].
The village of Danda Darpa Khel is in the sphere of influence of the Haqqani Network. In the past, the US has carried out several attacks against the Haqqani Network in the village. On Feb. 18, 2010, the US killed Mohammed Haqqani, one of the 12 sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, in an airstrike in Danda Darpa Khel. Mohammed served as a military commander for the Haqqani Network.
In the second strike today, Predators fired missiles at a Taliban team in South Waziristan that was launching missiles and rockets at a US base across the border in Afghanistan, killing three, Dawn reported. The exact location of the strike was not given, but the area along the border is controlled by Mullah Nazir, the Taliban commander who also identifies himself as an al Qaeda commander [see LWJ report, ‘Good’ Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda].
The airstrikes took place as the US and Pakistan are waging a war of words over the latter’s support of the Haqqani Network. 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. Mullen described the Haqqani Network as a “veritable arm” of the ISI.
The Predator strikes, by the numbers
Today’s strikes are the first in Pakistan’s tribal areas this month. The last strike took place 14 days ago, on Sept. 30, in South Waziristan. Haleem Ullah, a deputy to South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, was killed in the attack.
The pace of the US strikes has been uneven over the past year, and the monthly strike totals have generally decreased. From January through September 2011, the strikes in Pakistan were as follows: nine strikes in January, three in February, seven in March, two in April, seven in May, 12 in June, three in July, six in August, and four in September. 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 55 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, that pattern has changed, as an increasing number of strikes are taking place in South Waziristan. So far in 2011, 33 of the 55 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 20 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one took place in Kurram.
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.