The US launched its first drone strike in Pakistan in nearly two weeks in Pakistan’s tribal areas today. The latest strike took place in an area of North Waziristan that is known to harbor al Qaeda fighters.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the remote Shawal Valley, according to AFP. Five “militants” were killed in the strike, Pakistani officials told the news agency.
No senior al Qaeda, Taliban, or allied jihadist commanders are reported to have been killed in today’s strike.
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 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].
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s strike is the third in Pakistan 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.
Al Qaeda has since released two videos of Abu Yahya; both appear to have been produced sometime after November 2011. The first video, which appears to have been taped long ago, addressed the Syrian revolution. Abu Yahya spoke about US ethics in the second video. Abu Yahya did not address reports of his death in either video. [See Threat Matrix reports, As Sahab releases video of Abu Yahya al Libi; Al Qaeda suggests Abu Yahya al Libi is alive, promises video; and Al Qaeda releases another tape from Abu Yahya al Libi.]
The US has carried out 24 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Six of the strikes have taken place this month; four occurred in North Waziristan and two were in South Waziristan. Eleven of this year’s 24 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 Abu Yahya, two other high-value targets has been killed in the strikes this year. A Jan. 11 strike in Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network.
And on Feb. 8, the US killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a 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. Osama bin Laden described Mansoor as one of several commanders of al Qaeda’s “companies” operating in the tribal areas. He was later promoted to lead al Qaeda’s forces in the tribal areas.
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 the same number of strikes in Yemen (24) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as it has launched against al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Pakistan (24). 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.