The US killed eight “militants” in an area of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan that is known to serve as a gateway for terrorist groups entering Afghanistan. The drone strike is the first in Pakistan in two weeks.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound last night in the village of Shinkai Narai in the Shawal area of North Waziristan. The strike took place as the fighters were preparing to break their fast and eat their Iftar dinner, Geo News reported.
Tribesmen said that four “Arab fighters” were among those killed in the strike, while Dawn reported that “there is a possibility that a high profile figure was killed.” The identities of the Arabs and the “high profile figure” were not disclosed, however.
The Pakistani government, in a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, immediately protested the attack, which it described as “counter-productive.”
“The Government of Pakistan strongly condemns the US drone strike that took place in Shawal Area in North Waziristan on the night of 28 July 2013,” the Foreign Ministry said. “These unilateral strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pakistan has repeatedly emphasized the importance of bringing an immediate end to drone strikes.”
The Shawal Valley, where last night’s strike took place, is a known haven for al Qaeda and other terror groups operating in the region. A host of Taliban, Pakistani, and foreign terrorist groups gather in the Shawal Valley and then enter Afghanistan to fight US, NATO and Afghan government forces.
The last US drone strike to hit the Shawal Valley took place on on June 7. That strike killed a “key Pakistani Taliban commander” who was known as Mutaqi and Bahadar Khan. The compound where Muqati and his followers were staying was struck “when a pick-up truck arrived from the bordering area of Afghanistan, according to Dawn. Mutaqi and his fighters “were planning to cross over into Afghanistan.”
In the past, the US has focused its operations on the Shawal Valley. Last year, 10 of the 46 drone strikes in Pakistan, or 22%, hit targets in the Shawal Valley. Targeting in the area was heavy during the summer of 2012; at one point in time, seven of 10 strikes took place there.
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 Asian terror groups are known to operate in the area. On July 1, 2012, 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 [see LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation]. The US killed Waliur Rehman along with his deputy Fakhar-ul-Islam, two Uzbeks, and three Taliban fighters in a drone strike in North Waziristan on May 29.
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 al Qaeda-linked 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 2012, Bahadar banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan, in protest against US drone strikes.
Today’s strike is the first since July 13, and just the fourth since President Barack Obama’s speech at the end of May outlining a reduced US counterterrorism role in the world. Obama said that the drones, which are currently operated by the CIA, will eventually be turned over to the military, and that the pace of the strikes will be reduced. Even though al Qaeda has expanded its operations in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, and in North and West Africa, Obama claimed that the terrorist organization has been sufficiently weakened.
The US has launched 18 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. The number of strikes in Pakistan has decreased since a peak in 2010, when 117 such attacks were recorded. In 2011, 64 strikes were launched in Pakistan, and in 2012 there were 46 strikes.
The US has targeted al Qaeda’s top leaders and its external operations network, as well as the assortment of Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups operating in the region. The strikes have been confined mostly to North and South Waziristan. Of the 343 strikes recorded since 2004, 326, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies.