US drones struck for the second time in 24 hours in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Today’s strike, which took place in the early morning, targeted the fighters “on the first floor of a shop” in the bazaar in Miramshah, Pakistani officials told AFP. The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at the shop, killing three “militants.”
The identity of those killed was not disclosed, and no senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed at this time.
Today’s airstrike occurred less than one day after US drones killed four more unidentified militants as they traveled in a vehicle in the town of Isha just outside of Miramshah.
Fourth strike in Miramshah’s bazaar since March 2010
The US has carried out at least three other airstrikes inside Miramshah’s bazaar since mid-May 2010. Two senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in the three strikes.
The first strike in Miramshah’s bazaar took place on March 17, 2010, and killed Sadam Hussein Al Hussami, who is also known as Ghazwan al Yemeni, and three other al Qaeda operatives. Hussami was a protege of Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s top bomb maker and WMD chief who was killed in a US airstrike in South Waziristan in July 2008. Hussami was training al Qaeda and Taliban fighters to conduct attacks in Afghanistan and outside the region, and was a key planner in the suicide attack on Combat Outpost Chapman that that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The slain intelligence operatives were involved in gathering intelligence for the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban leaders along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The next strike in the bazaar took place almost two years later, on Feb. 8, 2012. The US 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. 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 last strike in Miramshah’s bazaar took place on March 30, 2012. Four militants were reported to have been killed, however no senior terrorist leader was among them.
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, a US intelligence official has 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.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s strike is the second 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.
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. [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.]
The US has carried out 23 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Five of the strikes have taken place this month; three were in North Waziristan and two more were in South Waziristan. Ten of this year’s 23 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 al Libi and Badr Mansoor, another other high-value target has 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 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 (23) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as it has has launched against al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Pakistan (23). 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.