The US launched the first Predator drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan since al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al Libi was killed there in an attack nine days ago.
Today’s strike, which was carried out by the unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers, targeted a vehicle in the village of Isha near Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, according to AFP. The drones fired two missiles at the vehicle, killing four “militants,” The Associated Press reported.
The target of the strike has not been disclosed, and at this time no senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders are reported to have been killed.
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.
Today’s strike is the first since June 4, when the US killed Abu Yahya al Libi, one of al Qaeda’s top leaders, propagandists, and religious figures. Abu Yahya was killed in a strike on a compound in Mir Ali. Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkmen fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were reportedly among the 14 terrorists killed along with Abu Yahya.
Yesterday, al Qaeda released a video of Abu Yahya that was produced sometime after November 2011. The video, which appears to have been taped long ago, addressed the Syrian revolution. Abu Yahya did not address reports of his death in the video.
As Sahab, which released the video on jihadist forums, used the term “may Allah protect him” when referring to Abu Yahya. This term is used for leaders who are alive; al Qaeda will say “may Allah have on mercy him” when referring to a leader who is dead. However, in the past, al Qaeda has released a video of a senior leader after he was killed but before his official martyrdom statement was released. This happened with Atiyah Abd al Rahman, Abu Yahya’s predecessor. [See Threat Matrix reports, As Sahab releases video of Abu Yahya al Libi, and Al Qaeda suggests Abu Yahya al Libi is alive, promises video, for more details.]
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
The US has carried out 22 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Four of the strikes have taken place this month; two were in North Waziristan and two more were in South Waziristan. Nine of this year’s 22 strikes in Pakistan have taken place since May 22, one day after the US failed to persuade Pakistan at the NATO summit in Chicago to reopen NATO’s supply lines to Afghanistan. [For data on the strikes, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012, and Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012.]
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, which have been closed since the end of November 2011. 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.
A US intelligence official involved in the drone program in the country told The Long War Journal on May 28 that the strikes would continue now that Pakistan has refused to reopen NATO’s supply lines for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
In addition to Al Libi, two other 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.
So far this year, the US has launched more strikes in Yemen (23) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula than it has launched against al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Pakistan (22). 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.