The US is reported to have killed at least four jihadists, including “foreigners,” in a drone strike that struck a vehicle in an area of Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan that serves as a safe haven for al Qaeda and other groups that operate in the region.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired two missiles at a vehicle in the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan, killing four jihadists, Dawn reported. According to The Express Tribune, “there were mostly foreigners among those killed.”
The identities of those killed were not disclosed. “Foreigners” is a term used in the Pakistani press to describe foreign fighters from Arab countries or from regional groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or the Turkistan Islamic Party.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other jihadist organizations have not announced the deaths of any senior leaders, commanders, or operatives.
The Shawal Valley, which is administered by Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar and 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.
The US has launched 26 drone strikes in the Shawal Valley since September 2010, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, the former emir of the Turkistan Islamic Party, was killed in a strike in August 2012; while three al Qaeda military trainers were killed in an attack there in August 2013.
The Pakistani military reportedly is preparing to expand its offensive in North Waziristan, which began in mid-June 2014, into the Shawal Valley. The operation, called Zarb-e-Azb, has focused on foreign terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party, as well as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The Pakistani military has not attacked the Haqqani Network or the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, despite claims to the contrary. These two independent Taliban factions are considered “good Taliban,” as they do not openly advocate attacking the Pakistan state. But the Haqqanis and the Bahadar group, the two most powerful Taliban factions in North Waziristan, shelter and support al Qaeda, IMU, TIP, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (the “bad Taliban”). [See LWJ report, Pakistan launches ‘comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists’ in North Waziristan, and Threat Matrix report, Pakistani forces focus on ‘foreigners’ in North Waziristan operation.]
US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s drone strike in North Waziristan is the seventh reported in Pakistan this year. The last attack, on May 17, targeted a compound in the Shawal Valley. Six jihadists, most of whom are said to have been foreigners or Uzbeks, were reported killed.
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. So far this year, the US killed Ustad Ahmad Farooq, the deputy emir of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent; Qari ‘Imran, an AQIS shura member; and Adam Gadahn, an American who served as a top al Qaeda propagandist. An American and an Italian hostage were also killed in the strike that killed Farooq. Additionally, a Taliban commander known as Khawray Mehsud was killed in a drone strike this year.
While the US counterterrorism campaign focuses on al Qaeda’s network in North and South Waziristan, the global jihadist group formed al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, which incorporated elements of regional terrorist organizations. Al Qaeda and its regional branch, AQIS, remains active outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas in the provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan, Punjab, and Sindh, where US drones do not operate.
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