US drones killed 16 “militants” in a strike today on a compound in Pakistan’s Taliban-infested tribal agency of Arakzai. The strike is the first recorded outside of Pakistan’s tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan since December 2010.
Pakistani officials told Dawn that the unmanned Predators or Reapers fired four missiles at a compound in the Buland Khel area of Arakzai. The compound belonged to Maulana Shakirullah, “who is the commander of the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP or Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan),” officials told the Pakistani news agency. However, Bahadur operates independently of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Shakirullah is said to be allied with the Haqqani Network and al Qaeda. No senior al Qaeda or allied jihadist commanders from foreign terrorist groups are reported to have been killed in the strike.
Drone strikes outside of the designated “kill boxes” in North and South Waziristan are rare. Of the 318 drone strikes recorded by The Long War Journal since 2004, only 17 have taken place outside of North and South Waziristan.
Today’s strike is the first that has been reported outside of North and South Waziristan since the US hit training camps belonging to Taliban commander Tariq Afridi in the tribal agency of Khyber in four strikes on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17 in 2010.
The US has conducted only one strike in Arakzai in the past, on April 1, 2009. In that strike, which targeted a Taliban compound in the town of Khadzai, a region run by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the emir of the al Qaeda-linked Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, 12 Taliban fighters and al Qaeda operatives were killed and 12 more were wounded. Hakeemullah was thought to be attending a senior Taliban leadership meeting at the compound, but was not killed in the strike. Abdullah Hamas al Filistini, a senior al Qaeda trainer, was among those killed in the April 1 strike.
Background on Bahadar and his ties to terrorist groups
Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan who is known to shelter top al Qaeda leaders, is one of the most powerful Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s tribal areas. His forces also fight US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Bahadar and the Taliban maintain a “peace agreement” with the Pakistani military that allows him to run a state within a state in the remote tribal agency. Bahadar and his commanders have set up a parallel administration, complete with courts, recruiting centers, prisons, training camps, and the ability to levy taxes.
The peace agreement allows North Waziristan to serve as a base for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and non-aligned Taliban groups, as well as the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, and a host of Pakistani terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Punjabi Taliban.
Bahadar wields considerable power in North Waziristan. Last July, a spokesman for Bahadar claimed that there were no “militants” in North Waziristan, and that Bahadar’s Taliban faction has lived up to its terms of a peace agreement with the Pakistani military. But, as documented here at The Long War Journal numerous times, Bahadar provides support and shelter for top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from a number of Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Bahadar’s Taliban subgroup is a member of the Shura-e-Murakaba, an al Qaeda and Afghan-brokered alliance that includes the Haqqani Network, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and the Mullah Nazir Group in South Waziristan.
In June, Bahadar suspended polio vaccination programs in North Waziristan in protest of the US drone strikes in North Waziristan. Bahadar has objected to the US drone strikes in the past. On Nov. 12, 2011, Bahadar suspended meetings with the government and threatened to attack the Pakistani state if it continued to allow the US to conduct attacks in areas under his control.
The US has conducted numerous airstrikes against terrorist targets in areas under Bahadar’s control. Of the 318 drone strikes that have taken place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, 88 of the strikes, or nearly 28 percent, have occurred in areas directly under the control of Bahadar. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012, for information on US airstrikes.]
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s strike is the second in two days, and the third this month. Yesterday, the US hit a compound in the terrorist haven of Mir Ali in North Waziristan; five “militants” were reported to have been killed.
Today’s strike is the 18th 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 in North Waziristan. Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkmen fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were reportedly among the 14 terrorists killed along with Abu Yahya.
The US has carried out 39 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Twenty of the strikes have taken place since the beginning of June; 17 occurred in North Waziristan, two were in South Waziristan, and one has taken place in Arakzai. [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 were closed from the end of November 2011 until July 3. 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.
In addition to Abu Yahya, three other high-value targets have been confirmed killed in the strikes in Pakistan 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.
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.
And sometime earlier this year, a US drone strike killed Abu Usman Adil, the emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Adil succeeded Tahir Yuldashev, the co-founder of the IMU, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2009. Adil is credited with increasing the IMU’s profile in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the death of Yuldashev, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Whereas Yuldashev had been content with confining the group’s operations largely to Pakistan’s tribal areas, Adil pushed to expand operations in northern and eastern Afghanistan, as well as in the Central Asian republics.
Four senior jihadist leaders, including Abu Kasha al Iraqi and Fateh al Turki, are reported to have been killed in drone strikes in North Waziristan since the beginning of August, although their deaths have not been confirmed. Badruddin Haqqani, a top leader in the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, is thought to have been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan. Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and a Haqqani Network spokesman denied reports that claimed Badruddin was killed, and said he “is in the country and he is occupied with his operational responsibilities.” Afghan, Pakistani, and US intelligence officials have said that Badruddin is dead.
And Emeti Yakuf, who is also known as Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, may have been killed in the Aug. 24 drone strike in North Waziristan’s Shawal Valley that hit a training camp. Yakuf directs al Qaeda operations in Pakistan’s 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 six more strikes in Pakistan (39) against al Qaeda and allied terror groups than it has in Yemen (33) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2011, 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.