US drone strike kills four in Taliban, al Qaeda haven


The US killed four fighters loyal to a jihadist commander who split from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan last year in a drone strike in South Waziristan yesterday. The airstrike took place the same day that al Qaeda’s regional branch announced the death of two senior commanders and noted that more than 50 of the jihadist group’s operatives have been killed since last summer.

The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired two missiles at a compound and a vehicle in the Shawal area of South Waziristan, killing four jihadists who “belonged to the ‘Sajna’ group,” Dawn reported.

The “Sajna group” is led by Sajna Mehsud (also known as Khalid Mehsud or Said Khan), a Taliban commander who broke from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan alliance in May 2014. Sajna’s faction, which is also known as the Movement of the Taliban Mehsud, or the Movement of the Taliban South Waziristan, split from the parent organization over a leadership dispute with Mullah Fazlullah. Sajna has allied his group with North Waziristan Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who is considered to be a “good Taliban” commander as he does not openly advocate attacking the Pakistani state. Bahadar still shelters and supports the “bad Taliban,” or those who openly fight the Pakistani state, as well al Qaeda and other regional and global jihadist groups.

The Shawal Valley, which spans both North and South Waziristan, is a known haven for al Qaeda and other terror groups operating in the region. A number of Taliban, Pakistani, and foreign terrorist groups gather in the Shawal Valley and then enter Afghanistan to fight US, NATO, and Afghan government forces.

Yesterday’s strike is the first recorded in Pakistan in nearly a month, and just the fifth this year. The last confirmed strike took place on March 18, when US drones killed seven jihadists, including veteran Taliban commander Khawray Mehsud, in the tribal agency of Kurram. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan confirmed that Khawray and two other fighters were killed. [See LWJ report, US kills Pakistani Taliban commander in drone strike.]

Last year the US launched 24 airstrikes inside Pakistan; 19 of those strikes took place in North Waziristan and four more in South Waziristan. The number of operations has decreased since the program’s peak in 2010, when 117 attacks were recorded by The Long War Journal. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2015.]

The US continues to target and kill al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas despite previous claims by Obama administration officials that al Qaeda has been decimated and only two “core” al Qaeda leaders remain active. Al Qaeda also remains active outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas in the provinces of Baluchistan, Punjab, and Sindh, where US drones do not operate.

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent announces death of two leaders, more than 50 members since last summer

The same day that the US targeted Sajna’s forces in South Waziristan, al Qaeda’s regional branch, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, announced that its deputy emir and a member of its shura were among more than 50 fighters killed in US drone strikes since last summer. [See LWJ report, US killed AQIS deputy emir, shura member in January drone strikes.]

AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmood released a statement yesterday eulogizing Ustad Ahmad Farooq, the deputy emir for AQIS, and Qari ‘Imran, a member of the group’s shura. The two AQIS leaders were killed in separate drone strikes in January.

Mahmood also said that while the Taliban have been targeted, al Qaeda has been the primary target of the US drone campaign since ramping up strikes in June of 2014, just as the Pakistani military began targeting the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan forces in North Waziristan as part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

“About 50 al Qaeda members and the same number of their local cohorts have been killed in these attacks,” Mahmood said, according to a partial translation of his speach that was obtained by The Long War Journal. The “local cohorts” are fighters from Taliban factions who shelter, support, and fight alongside al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistani al Qaeda.

Mahmood’s numbers roughly track with press reporting on the number of jihadists killed in US drone strikes. The US has killed 181 jihadists in 29 drone strikes, according to statistics compiled by The Long War Journal.

The exact number of al Qaeda fighters killed in US drone strikes is unknown, but press reports frequently refer to “Uzbeks,” “Arabs,” “foreigners,” and “Punjabi Taliban” fighters killed in the strikes. These are terms often used to describe al Qaeda and allied jihadist groups.

The US is known to have killed at least one other senior AQIS leader in a drone strike in Pakistan. On Oct. 11, US drones killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), a veteran jihadist who served on AQIS’s shura, in an attack in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Khyber.

In addition, AQIS reported that US forces killed Dr. Sarbaland (Abu Khalid) and Adil Abdul Quoos. Two of Sarbaland’s sons were also killed. Sarbaland and Quoos were described as senior AQIS leaders. Quoos, a former major in the Pakistani Army who was charged with subversive activities, has been directly linked to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an architect of 9/11. Sarbaland was an AQIS propagandist. They are thought to have been killed in a strike on Nov. 11, 2014.

Additionally, other al Qaeda operatives and commanders reported killed in US drone strikes since mid-June include: Omar Farooq, who was described as al Qaeda’s “coordinator for the Arab region and Pakistan” (killed Dec. 7, 2014); and Taj al Makki, Abu Abdurahman al Kuwaiti, and Fayez Awda al Khalidi (killed on July 8, 2014; all three were described as mid-level al Qaeda commanders). [See LWJ reports, 6 al Qaeda operatives thought killed in recent drone strike in Pakistan and Al Qaeda commander reported killed in drone strike in Pakistan.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • mike merlo says:

    so is this also ‘signaling’ by the various players, particularly Pakistan, another ‘redrawing’ of “Good” Taliban “Bad” Taliban now that ISIS/ISIL has established presence in the AfPak Theater?


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