US drones are reported to have killed five jihadists in Pakistan’s tribal agency on Kurram earlier today, according to reports from Pakistan. The strike took place only days after Pakistan freed two westerners and their children from Taliban custody in the same tribal agency.
The remotely piloted Reapers fired four missiles at a compound in Kurram along the border with Afghanistan, according to AFP. The exact target of today’s strike has not been disclosed. The US government has not yet commented on the operation, and jihadists based in Pakistan have not confirmed the death of any senior or mid-level operatives or leaders.
One Pakistani official told the news agency that the target of the strike was “Abu Bakar,” a “commander of the Haqqani network.” However, the US is previously thought to have killed a Haqqani Network commander known as Abu Bakar Haqqani in Kurram in a drone strike in Hangu on June 13, 2017. The Haqqani Network is an integral part of the Afghan Taliban and is closely allied with both al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is also one of two deputy emirs of the Afghan Taliban.
Haqqani Network leadership has been targeted numerous times during the US drone campaign in Pakistan, which began in 2004 but was ramped up in 2008 under President George W. Bush. The US has killed 13 Haqqani Commanders, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. Among those killed were Badruddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s brother and a top deputy; Jan Baz Zadran, the group’s third in command; Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior military commander who was the Taliban’s shadow governor of Paktika; and Abdullah Haqqani, who coordinated and trained the group’s suicide bombers.
Today’s airstrike took place just three days after the Pakistani military took credit for freeing Caitlan Coleman, an American citizen, Joshua Boyle, a Canadian, and their three children. The family was being held by the Taliban since Coleman and Boyle were captured while hiking in Wardak province in Afghanistan in 2012. Boyle was previously married to a sister of Omar Khadr, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who pled guilty to killing a US soldier while fighting alongside the Taliban.
The Pakistani military and government used the release of Coleman, Boyle, and their children to claim they are fighting side-by-side with the US to oppose jihadists in the region. However the Afghan Taliban and other jihadist groups remain ensconced in Pakistan and continue to receive support and safe haven.
Sixth strike reported in Pakistan this year
Today’s strike in Kurram is the sixth of its kind reported in Pakistan this year. It is also only the sixth since the US killed Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in an airstrike in Baluchistan province in May 2016.
The last strike, on Sept. 15, killed three jihadists in Kurram. In a May 24 airstrike, the US killed “Abdullah,” who was identified by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as “a great master in electronics.” Abdullah was associated with Akhtar Muhammad Khalil, the Taliban’s emir for North Waziristan.
On March 2, US drones reportedly killed two jihadists as they rode on a motorcycle in the tribal agency of Kurram. An Afghan Taliban commander known as Qari Abdullah Subari is believed to have been killed in the strike, according to Reuters. And on Apr. 29, US drones reportedly 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 only 11 drone 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.
President Donald Trump has vowed to take a tougher line on Pakistan, and in a speech in August, called out the country for providing safe haven and support for the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups in the region.