2 Taliban commanders reportedly killed in US strike in Pakistan

Two Pakistani Taliban commanders were among seven jihadists reportedly killed in a suspected US drone strike that took place on April 29 in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan, according to reports from the region. The strike would be the second inside Pakistan since the US killed Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in an attack in May 2016.

The strike took place on a compound in the village of Lawra Mandi in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, according to AFP, which quoted Pakistani security officials. Seven jihadists, including “two militant commanders” known as Abdul Rehman and Akhtar Mohammad, were reportedly killed in the attack.

The Taliban and other jihadist organizations such as al Qaeda that are known to operate in the Datta Khel have not announced the deaths of any senior leaders, commanders, or operatives. The Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, which is allied with many jihadist organizations operating in the region, administers the Datta Khel area.

The compound is thought to have been used by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which wages war against the Pakistani state as well as against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Datta Khel is a terrorist haven

The Datta Khel area in North Waziristan, where yesterday’s drone strike took place, is a nexus of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, the group’s former general manager; Abdullah Said al Libi, the emir of the Lashkar-al-Zil; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a top Lashkar-al-Zil general. [See ‘Foreign militants’ reported killed in latest US drone strike in Pakistan, for more details on Datta Khel and senior al Qaeda leaders killed there.]

Most recently, on Jan. 4, 2015, the US killed Qari ‘Imran, a member of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s leadership council, in a strike in Datta Khel.

The Pakistani military claimed in Sept. 2014 that it “cleared” Datta Khel of jihadist groups during Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which began on June 15, 2014. But the operation targeted only the so-called “bad” Taliban, such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – or the Talbian factions that also wage war against the Pakistani state. The Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group were not targeted in the operation, despite Pakistani military claims to the contrary.

The Pakistani state does not consider terrorist organizations such as the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group to be a threat as they do not openly advocate attacks against their government or military. The problem is the so-called “good” Taliban shelter and support al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Second strike reported in Pakistan this year

Yesterday’s strike is just the second reported in Pakistan this year, and the second since the US killed Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in an attack in Baluchistan province in May 2016.

The US is thought to have launched another operation in Pakistan on March 2, when drones killed two jihadists as they rode a motorcycle in the tribal agency of Kurram. An Afghan Taliban “commander” known as Qari Abdullah Subari was reportedly killed in the strike, according to Reuters.

Drone strikes in Pakistan have tapered off significantly since the peak of operations against al Qaeda’s leadership and allied jihadist groups in 2010 (117 recorded strikes). By 2015, the US launched just 11 attacks, and by 2016, only three – with the last raining down on Mansour in May.

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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