The US launched a drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today. Six “militants,” including an unnamed “high value target,” are said to have been killed in the latest attack in an area known to serve as a launchpad for operations against US forces in Afghanistan.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more advanced Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Mangroati in the Shawal area of the North Waziristan, according to Dawn. Six militants, including a “high value target,” are reported to have been killed. The name of the senior operative thought to have been killed was not disclosed.
Today’s strike is the first in Pakistan since the US killed Waliur Rehman, the deputy emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the group’s leader in South Waziristan. It is also the first strike in Pakistan since Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as the country’s prime minister. Sharif has repeatedly called for an end to drone strikes and is seeking to negotiate with the Taliban.
The last strike in the Shawal Valley took place on Dec. 28, 2012; five “militants” are reported to have died in the attack.
The Shawal Valley is a known haven for al Qaeda and other terror groups operating in the region. Last year, 10 of the 46 drone strikes in Pakistan, or 22%, hit targets in the Shawal Valley. Targeting in the area was heavy during the summer of 2012; at one point in time, seven of 10 strikes took place there.
Al Qaeda, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Taliban fighters under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan, are all known to operate in the Shawal Valley, which is near the Afghan border. The area is used to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan. Additionally, Central Asia terror groups are known to operate in the area. On July 1, 2012, a US drone strike killed several members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that operates in Pakistan, China, and Central Asia.
Bahadar administers the Shawal Valley. In 2009, after the Pakistani military launched an offensive in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, Bahadar sheltered the families of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman [see LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation].
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Hafiz Gul Bahadar or the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. In June 2012, Bahadar banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan, in protest against US drone strikes.
The US has launched 15 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. The number of strikes in Pakistan has decreased since a peak in 2010, when 117 such attacks were recorded. In 2011, 64 strikes were launched in Pakistan, and in 2012 there were 46 strikes.
The US has targeted al Qaeda’s top leaders and its external operations network, as well as the assortment of Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups operating in the region. The strikes have been confined mostly to North and South Waziristan. Of the 340 strikes recorded since 2004, 323, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies.