The US again targeted terrorists operating in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, killing eight “militants” in two airstrikes.
In the first strike, the unmanned Predators or Reapers fired four missiles at a compound in the village of Hassokhel, near Miramshah, according to AFP. The remotely piloted strike aircraft circled back and fired four more missiles at the compound, Pakistani officials told the news service. One Pakistani official told AFP that Hassokhel “was known for harbouring Uzbek, Arab and other foreign militants.” The AFP report said “at least five” militants were killed in the strike.
In the second strike, three more “militants” were killed when the drones fired a pair of missiles at a vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, AFP reported.
No senior leaders from al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other allied terror groups have been reported killed in either strike.
A US intelligence official involved in the drone program in the country told The Long War Journal that the strikes would continue now that Pakistan has refused to reopen NATO’s supply lines for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the official said. “Unfortunately the politics of getting the GLOC into Afghanistan has trumped the targeting of bad guys in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the official said, referring to the Ground Lines of Communication.
The drone program was scaled back dramatically from the end of March to the beginning of the fourth week in May. Between March 30 and May 22, the US conducted only three drones strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as US officials attempted to renegotiate the reopening of NATO’s supply lines.
Miramshah serves as the headquarters of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban subgroup that operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and is supported by Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. The town serves as one of the “ground zeros” of terror groups based in North Waziristan, the US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Other main centers of terror activity in North Waziristan include Datta Khel, Mir Ali, and the Shawal Valley.
The Haqqani Network is one of four major Taliban groups that have joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda late last year. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; Mullah Nazir’s group; and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud. The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
The US has now launched five strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the past six days, and six strikes total this month. The US launched the first of the last five strikes just one day after failing to convince Pakistan at a NATO summit in Chicago to reopen the supply lines to Afghanistan. Pakistan closed the supply lines following the Mohmand incident in November 2011, in which US troops killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani soldiers were killed after they opened fire on US troops operating across the border in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
The US has carried out 18 strikes so far this year. Three took place in South Waziristan, and 15 in North Waziristan. Ten of the 15 strikes in North Waziristan have been executed in or around Miramshah.
Two high-value targets have been killed in the strikes this year. A Jan. 11 strike killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network. The US also killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a Feb. 8 strike in Miramshah’s bazaar.
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 17 strikes in the first five months of 2012, the US is on a pace to carry out just 36 strikes in Pakistan this year.
So far this year, the US has launched more strikes in Yemen (21) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula than it has launched against al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Pakistan. In 2011, however, the US launched only 10 airstrikes in Yemen, versus 64 in Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.