The US launched its second drone strike in a week, hitting a Taliban compound in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The unmanned Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers fired four missiles at a compound in the village of Darr-e-Nishtar in the Shawal Valley. Ten “militants’ were killed and one more was wounded in the strike, The Express Tribune reported. Another report, from The Associated Press, stated that eight missiles were fired at the compound and eight militants were killed. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed.
The compound was known to be used as a training center, according to Dawn. It is unclear which terror group in the area ran the compound. Al Qaeda, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Taliban fighters under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan, are all known to operate in the Shawal Valley, which is near the border with Afghanistan.
Bahadar administers the Shawal Valley. In 2009, Bahadar sheltered the families of of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the group’s leader in South Waziristan, after the Pakistani military launched an offensive in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan [see LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation].
Bahadar, Hakeemullah, South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, and Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network, are members of the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance formed in late 2011. The four commanders agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US and NATO in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
The deal was brokered by senior al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al Libi as well as by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational leader of the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Mansour, a senior Taliban leader who operates in eastern Afghanistan. An al Qaeda leader known as Abdur Rehman Al Saudi was also involved in the negotiations. Mullah Omar, the overall leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is said to have dispatched Siraj and Mansour to help negotiate the agreement [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda brokers new anti-US Taliban alliance in Pakistan and Afghanistan].
US strikes in Pakistan in 2012
Today’s strike in Miramshah is the second in five days, and the first this month. Prior to the April 29 strike, which took place in North Waziristan in the main bazaar of the town of Miramshah, the US paused the program for one month while Pakistan’s parliament debated the US program. Pakistan’s parliament has since demanded that the US end the drone strikes in the tribal areas as a condition for the reopening of the NATO supply line that runs through Pakistan into Afghanistan.
The US has carried out 13 strikes so far this year. Three took place in South Waziristan, and 10 in North Waziristan; seven of those strikes have been executed in or around Miramshah.
The program has been scaled down from its peak in 2010, when the US conducted 117 strikes, according to data collected by The Long War Journal. In 2011, the US carried out just 64 strikes in Pakistan’s border regions. With only 13 strikes in the first five months of 2012, the US is on a pace to carry out just 36 strikes in Pakistan this year.
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 US also killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a Feb. 8 strike in Miramshah’s bazaar. Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border, and linked up members of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen with al Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan
Additionally, the US killed a German jihadist known as Samir H. in the March 9 airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan. Samir was a member of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Despite the US airstrikes, al Qaeda operatives claim they are still capable of conducting training and operations in the area. Abu Zubaydah al Lubnani, a Lebanese member of al Qaeda who operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border, has said that while the drones have “delayed some operations or even stopped them,” the terror group is still functioning in the region.
“I want here to confirm that Qaedat al-Jihad is still standing in Khorasan, solid and strong, despite what hit it, and it is still producing operations and it doesn’t know the path of despair…,” Lubnani said in statement that was recently released on jihadist forums and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
A document seized during the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden showed that the terror chief was concerned about the drone program and had ordered those leaders and fighters who could leave the kill box in North and South Waziristan to move to the Afghan provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, Zabul, and Ghazni.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.