The US wounded an “Afghan extremist” in an airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Kurram today. The US counterterrorism operation is the first of its kind reported inside Pakistan in 2018.
The strike took place in the “Badshah Kot area near the Pak-Afghan border” and wounded an “Afghan extremist” known as Khalid, Pakistani officials told Dawn. That report was confirmed by The Express Tribune, which described Khalid as a suspected “Afghan militant” and said the home that Khalid was in was “completely destroyed.”
Today’s strike was the first recorded inside Pakistan since Dec. 26, when US drones killed Jamiuddin, a jihadist who helped fighters move from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Jamiuddin was reportedly a “trusted man” in within the Haqqani Network, a subgroup of the Afghan Taliban. That strike also took place in Kurram.
Over the last two years, Kurram has become a focus of US counterterrorism strikes within Pakistan. The US has launched 12 such attacks inside Pakistan since Dec. 2016; seven of them have occurred inside Kurram, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. The last five US strikes have all taken place inside Kurram.
Elements of the Haqqani Network, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, relocated to Kurram in 2014 after the Pakistani military telegraphed a planned operation to root out the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s network in North Waziristan. Sirajuddin is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network and serves as one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs as well as its military commander.
For perspective on how much the US has focused in on Kurram, the US launched 389 strikes inside Pakistan from 2004 through 2015 and only five of those occurred in Kurram. Instead, more than 95 percent of the 389 strikes inside Pakistan between 2004-2015 took place inside the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, which are known hotbeds of numerous Taliban groups as well as global jihadist organizations such as al Qaeda.
As a whole, 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 that killed Mullah Mansour, the previous emir of the Afghan Taliban in May. That strike was the was the final one of 2016 and the last of President Obama’s second term. However, after President Trump took office, the number of strikes inside Pakistan increased to eight in 2017.
Trump has vowed to take a tougher line on Pakistan. In an August speech, he called out the country for providing safe haven and support for the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups in the region. On Jan. 1, Trump ramped up the pressure on Pakistan and increased the likelihood that the US would step up its air campaign after accusing the country of returning US aid with “nothing but lies & deceit” while continuing to provide the Afghan Taliban a “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”