The Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) has confirmed that the US killed two of its operatives in a drone strike in the tribal agency of North Waziristan earlier this week. The TTP announced today that it “retaliated” for the drone strike by attacking Pakistani forces.
The TTP wrote on its Telegram account that the US targeted “companions” of its emir for North Waziristan, commander Akhtar Muhammad Khalil, on May 24. Two of Khalil’s followers were killed in the attack. One of them was known as “Abdullah,” who “was a great master in electronics.”
According to the TTP, Khalil is still alive. When referencing Khalil, the TTP twice writes, “may Allah safeguard him.” The group said it would “take revenge” by assaulting “Pakistani forces” because the “spies” of the “Pakistani apostate army … are actually American slaves … spying [on] the Mujahideen.”
Then, the TTP followed up with a statement earlier today saying that it had executed “two successive assaults in Waziristan” against Pakistani forces. The TTP claimed it killed eight Pakistani soldiers in an IED blast and a subsequent ambush. The Pakistani military has not confirmed the death of its soldiers in North Waziristan.
Khalil, who has been featured in TTP propaganda in the past, was named the group’s emir for North Waziristan in May 2016. He was responsible reconciling his North Waziristan faction with the TTP’s hierarchy.
The US military has targeted Khalil’s forces in the past. In March, the TTP said that US drones killed Commander Yusuf Wazir, who was described as a “very close and confidant companion” of Khalil, in an operation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It is unclear if Wazir was killed in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
In April, Pakistani officials claimed that US drones killed Khalil and an al Qaeda leader known as Abdul Raheem in North Waziristan. The strike took place in a compound owned by Khalil. The TTP denied that Khalil was killed and issued a statement claiming that it attacked Pakistani forces to avenge the strike.
Third strike reported in Pakistan this year
The May 24 strike is just the third bombing reported in Pakistan this year. It is also only the third since the US killed Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in an airstrike in Baluchistan province in May 2016.
US drones reportedly killed two jihadists as they rode on a motorcycle in the tribal agency of Kurram on March 2. An Afghan Taliban “commander” known as Qari Abdullah Subari is thought to have been killed in the strike, according to Reuters. And on Apr. 29, US drones are believed to have killed al Qaeda commander Abdul Raheem.
Drone strikes in Pakistan have tapered off significantly since the peak of operations against al Qaeda’s leadership and allied jihadist groups in 2010, when 117 strikes were recorded. In 2015, the US launched just 11 attacks. In 2016, there were only three more, including the one targeting Mansour in May 2016, which was the final one for the year, the last of President Obama’s second term.