The US conducted its first strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal areas this year, killing five “militants,” according to reports.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers, which are operated by the CIA, attacked “a house suspected of being a militant hideout,” in the Angoor Agga area of South Waziristan, according to Xinhua. Four of the unmanned strike aircraft are thought to have been circling the compound before firing four missiles just after midnight.
Five “militants” are thought to have been killed, but their identities have not been disclosed. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders are known to have been killed.
Today’s strike is the first in Pakistan this year. Last year, the US launched 46 strikes in Pakistan, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. In 2011, the US launched 64 strikes; in 2010, when the program was at its peak, there were 117 strikes.
The program was ramped up by President George W. Bush in the summer of 2008 (35 strikes were launched that year) and continued under President Barack Obama after he took office in 2009 (53 strikes that year). From 2004-2007, only 10 strikes were recorded. Although some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed in drone strikes since the program began in 2004, al Qaeda has been able to replace those lost in the attacks. [For data on the strikes, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013; and Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013.]
Strike takes place in territory controlled by “good Taliban” leader
Today’s strike took place in an area under the control of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Wazir areas of South Waziristan. Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state.
Several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, have been killed while being sheltered by Nazir. [For more information on Nazir and al Qaeda leaders killed while under his protection, see LWJ reports, ‘Good’ Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, and US drones kill ‘good’ Taliban commander in South Wazirstan.]
Mullah Nazir’s Taliban faction is one of four major Taliban groups that joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda in late 2011. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; the Haqqani Network; 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 in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
In June 2012, Nazir banned polio vaccinations in his areas, and claimed that the program is being used by the US to gather intelligence and conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas. His action followed that of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who shut down the program in North Waziristan earlier that month.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.