The US launched another drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today. Five “militants” are said to have been killed in the latest strike in an area known to serve as a launchpad for attacks against US forces in Afghanistan.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more advanced Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Gurbaz in the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan, according to Dawn. Pakistani officials said that five “militants” were killed after the missiles slammed into the compound. No civilians are reported to have been killed.
The exact target of the strike has not been disclosed. No senior al Qaeda or allied jihadist commanders from foreign terrorist groups are reported to have been killed in the strike.
Today’s strike is the first by the US in Pakistan in seven days. The last such attack took place on Dec. 21 in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. Several “foreigners” were reportedly killed, but their identities have not been disclosed.
Drones have focused on the Shawal Valley
So far this year, 10 of the 45 drone strikes in Pakistan, or 22%, have hit targets in the Shawal Valley. Targeting in the area was heavy this summer; at one point in time, seven of 10 strikes took place in the Shawal Valley.
The last strike in the Shawal Valley took place on Aug. 24, when the drones hit three compounds in the area. The airstrike reportedly killed 18 militants.
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 Afghan border. The area is used to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan. Additionally, Central Asia terror groups are known to operate in the area. On July 1, a US drone strike killed several members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that operates in Pakistan, China, and Central Asia.
Bahadar administers the Shawal Valley. In 2009, after the Pakistani military launched an offensive in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, 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 [see LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation].
Bahadar, Hakeemullah, South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, and Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network are all 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, who was killed in a drone strike this year, 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].
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Hafiz Gul Bahadar or the Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. In June, Bahadar banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan, in protest against US drone strikes.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s strike is the 25th 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.
US officials said in November 2011 that only two senior al Qaeda leaders, Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al Libi, were left in the organization, and that the terror group would collapse once the two leaders were killed.
The US has carried out 46 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Twenty-seven of the strikes have taken place since the beginning of June; 22 occurred in North Waziristan, four 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 addition to Abu Yahya, four 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.
On Dec. 6, US drones killed Khalid bin Abdul Rahman al Husainan, a top al Qaeda religious leader who is also known as a Abu Zeid al Kuwaiti. Al Husainan is thought to have replaced Abu Yahya al Libi as the head of al Qaeda’s religious shura. While al Qaeda hasn’t confirmed his death, two of his associates said he died in Afghanistan, and US intelligence officials said they are confident he is indeed dead.
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 other senior jihadist leaders, including al Qaeda commanders 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 drone campaign 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 46 strikes in Pakistan against al Qaeda and allied terror groups, just six more than the 40 strikes this year in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2011, the US launched 64 strikes in Pakistan, versus only 10 in Yemen.