US Predators struck again in Pakistan’s lawless tribal agencies, killing 18 Taliban fighters today in an airstrike carried out by multiple drones in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.
A swarm of five unmanned CIA-operated Predators, or the more deadly Reapers, fired a barrage of up to 10 missiles “into the sprawling compound in the Baber Ghar area” in South Waziristan, according to AFP. The strike took place less than two miles from the border with Afghanistan’s Paktia province.
The identities of those killed have not been disclosed. Among those reportedly killed along with some members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan are several “foreign fighters,” a term used to describe al Qaeda operatives. Although no senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed, the mode of the strike – multiple drones firing a large amount of missiles – indicates the target was considered to be important.
The strike took place in an area of South Waziristan under the control of Mullah Nazir, a Taliban commander who also has expressed his affinity with al Qaeda.
“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. They died in an airstrike in the town of Karikot on Jan. 1, 2009. 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 in 2010, US Predators 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.
And earlier this year, Ilyas Kashmiri, the leader of al Qaeda’s Lashkar-al-Zil, or Shadow Army, was 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 second in Pakistan’s tribal areas in two days, and is the third reported strike this month. Yesterday, Predators killed five Taliban fighters in Miramshah in North Waziristan.
The US carried out nine drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas last month, killing several top al Qaeda, Taliban, and Haqqani Network commanders [see LWJ report, 2 senior al Qaeda leaders killed in recent drone strikes in Pakistan].
Over the past year, the pace of the US strikes has been uneven, but 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, four in September, and nine in October. 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 65 strikes in Pakistan. In 2010, the US carried out 117 strikes, which was more than double 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 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, 23 of the 65 strikes have taken place in South Waziristan, 41 strikes were in North Waziristan, and one was 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.
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