Unmanned US strike aircraft launched missiles at terrorists based in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, killing 10 “militants” in an area known to serve as an al Qaeda haven.
The Predators or Reapers, more commonly called drones, fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the town of Tappi near Miramshah, Pakistani officials told AFP. The Taliban have cordoned off the site of the strike and are conducting recovery operations. This is often a sign that a senior operative or leader was present.
“Eight militants were killed and two wounded,” the Pakistani official told AFP. “Militants have surrounded the compound and are removing the dead bodies.” The death toll was later raised to 10.
The exact target of the strike has not been disclosed, and the identity of those killed is not known. Those killed were later said to be Haqqani Network operatives and fighters from Central Asian countries.
Terrorists are known to have sheltered in the village of Tapi in the past. The US has struck at targets in the village five other times since the beginning of 2008, according to data on the strikes that has been compiled by The Long War Journal.
The Haqqani Network, a Taliban group that operates in North Waziristan as well as in eastern Afghanistan, administers the area where today’s attack took place. Al Qaeda leaders and operatives, who are closely allied with the Haqqani Network, shelter in the area, as do other terror groups.
Today’s strike is the first in Pakistan’s tribal areas in 15 days, and just the fourth this year. All four strikes this year have taken place in or around Miramshah in North Waziristan, a stronghold of the Haqqani Network.
The first strike this year took place on Jan. 11; it was the first by the US in Pakistan in 55 days. The previous strike took place on Nov. 16, 2011. The pause was the longest since the program was ramped up at the end of July 2008 [see LWJ report, US drone strikes in Pakistan on longest pause since 2008, from Dec. 19, 2011].
The program was put on hold from the end of November to the second week in January, following a clash between US forces and Pakistani Frontier Corps troops on the border of the Afghan province of Kunar and the Pakistani tribal area of Mohmand on Nov. 25-26. The US troops struck in Pakistan after taking mortar and machine gun fire on the Afghan side of the border from Pakistani troops. Twenty-four Pakistani Frontier Corps troops were killed.
The clash led to Pakistan’s closure of the border crossings in Chaman and Khyber to NATO supply columns destined for Afghanistan; the supply lines remain closed to this day. In the aftermath of the Mohmand incident, Pakistan also threatened to shoot down US drones flying in Pakistani airspace, and ejected US drones and personnel from the Shamsi Airbase in Baluchistan.
US officials told The Long War Journal on Dec. 12, 2011 that the program had been put “on hold” due to tensions over the Mohmand incident, but that the drones would strike again if a high value terrorist target that could not be ignored was spotted.
The Jan. 11 strike killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network. Awan was a Pakistani citizen from Abbottabad, the same town where Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in a cross-border raid in May 2011. Awan is the most senior al Qaeda leader killed in a drone strike since mid-October, when Abu Miqdad al Masri, a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis who also was involved in al Qaeda’s external operations, was killed. [For a list of senior terrorist leaders and operatives killed in drone strikes, see LWJ report, Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012.]
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was also rumored to have been killed in the Jan. 11 strike. His death has not been confirmed, however, and the Pakistani Taliban have denied he was killed.
The second strike last month, which took place on Jan. 12, killed six “militants,” including several “foreigners,” according to reports. No senior terrorist leaders or operatives have been reported killed in the Jan. 12 strike.
The third strike in January took place on the Jan. 23 and is said to have killed four terrorists from Turkmenistan. The Turkmen fighters may have been members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or one of the smaller Central Asian terrorist groups, such as Jund al Khilafa, that operate in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
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