The US killed three unidentified “militants” in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan yesterday. The strike is the third in Pakistan this month; the previous two attacks killed senior leaders in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Haqqani Network.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan last night, according to Dawn. Several strike aircraft were seen hovering over the compound before the strike.
The target of yesterday’s strike was not revealed, and no senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied jihadist commanders have been reported killed at this time. The strike is said to have killed “a Pakistani citizen from Punjab Province” but his identity was not disclosed, The New York Times reported. According to AFP, the Punjabi Taliban was the target of the attack, and an operative known as Aslam or Yaseem, who was involved in the attack on the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi in May 2011, was killed.
The Punjabi Taliban, or the Movement of the Taliban in Punjab, is led by Asmatullah Muawiya, who also serves as a commander of one of several a Qaeda military formations [see LWJ report, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan].
The attack took place in an area under the control of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban faction that operates in eastern, central, and northern Afghanistan, and is based in North Waziristan in Pakistan. The terror group has close links with al Qaeda, and is supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network and leads the Miramshah Shura, one of four major Taliban regional councils. Siraj is also a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
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 the Haqqani Network or allied Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The Haqqanis and Bahadar’s fighters are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Background on US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s strike is the second reported in Pakistan since Nov. 1, when the drones killed Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in an attack in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan. The last strike, on Nov. 21, killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top leader in the Haqqani Network, and two other senior commanders.
The vast majority of the US drone strikes have taken place in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan. Of the 353 strikes since 2004, 252 have hit targets in North Waziristan, and 83 have hit targets in South Waziristan. In the other tribal areas, there have been three strikes in Bajaur, two in Arakzai, four in Kurram, and five in Khyber. Four more strikes have taken place outside of the tribal areas; three were in Bannu and one more was in Hangu.
The drone strikes are controversial; in October, groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International formally accused the US of indiscriminately killing civilians in strikes in both Pakistan and Yemen. But at the end of October, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence released a report stating that 67 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since the beginning of 2009, and claimed that no civilians have been killed since the beginning of 2012.
The Long War Journal has recorded, based on Pakistani press reports, that at least 2,082 jihadists from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of terror groups operating in North and South Waziristan have been killed in strikes since the beginning of 2009, including some of al Qaeda’s top leaders. There have also been 105 reported civilian deaths in drone strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with 18 civilians killed since the beginning of 2012. Civilian casualties are difficult to assess as the strikes take place in areas under Taliban control; the figure may be higher than 105.
The US has launched 27 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, but al Qaeda and allied groups are known to have an extensive network throughout all of Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.