The US launched a drone strike in the jihadist haven of Datta Khel in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan earlier today. The Pakistani military claimed it “cleared” Datta Khel in September as part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was launched in mid-June this year.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the village of Mada Khel in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan during the early morning, killing six jihadists, The News reported. A “high value target,” who has not been named, is said to have been among those killed, Dawn noted.
Pakistani and regional jihadist groups, including al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have not released a statement or commented on the strike.
The Datta Khel area in North Waziristan, where today’s drone strike took place, is a nexus of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan, administers the area, but the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and other jihadist groups also operate there. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, Abdullah Said al Libi, and Zuhaib al Zahibi. [See LWJ report, ‘Foreign militants’ reported killed in latest US drone strike in Pakistan, for more details on Datta Khel and senior al Qaeda leaders killed there.]
Pakistan claimed Datta Khel was “cleared”
The Pakistani military, which launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15 against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, claimed a few months ago that it had “cleared” Datta Khel.
On Sept. 3, the Inter-Service Public Relations, the public affairs branch of the Pakistani military, issued a press release announcing that “security forces have cleared major towns of Miranshah, Mir Ali, Datta Khel, Boya and Degan, which were considered strong holds of terrorists.”
Yet two and a half months later, on Nov. 16, Pakistani strike aircraft launched “precise aerial strikes” in which “27 Terrorists including some of their important commanders and foreigners were killed in Datta Khel, North Wazirsstan [sic] Agency today.” The airstrikes indicate that the Pakistani military is not on the ground in Datta Khel, and is forced to rely on aircraft to conduct offensive operations.
The US has launched seven drone strikes against jihadist targets in Datta Khel since Sept. 3, when the Pakistani military claimed it cleared the area. According to data compiled by The Long War Journal, 40 jihadists, including al Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters and commanders, are reported to have been killed in the drone strikes.
US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s covert operation in Datta Khel is the 22nd strike reported in Pakistan this year. Eleven of those strikes have taken place in Datta Khel, and four more in the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan, which is also an al Qaeda and jihadist hub in the tribal agency.
The last strike, on Dec. 8, which also took place in Datta Khel, is rumored to have killed an al Qaeda commander known as Omar Farooq, but there has been no official confirmation of his death. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda commander reported killed in drone strike in Pakistan.]
All 22 attacks have taken place since June 11. The US drone program in Pakistan was put on hold from the end of December 2013 until June 11, 2014, as the Pakistani government attempted to negotiate a peace deal with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that wages jihad in Afghanistan and seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state.
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