Yesterday, the US launched the first recorded drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas in more than six weeks, killing 10 jihadists, including Uzbek fighters and local Taliban members.
The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired two missiles each at a vehicle and a compound in the village of Alwara Mandi in the area of Datta Khel in North Waziristan, Xinhua reported.
“The majority of the killed militants were foreign nationals, including two Uzbeks, who were fighting against Pakistani forces in the region,” the Chinese news agency reported. The Associated Press also reported that 10 militants were killed in the airstrike.
The exact target was not disclosed. No senior al Qaeda, Taliban, or other jihadist leaders or commanders are reported to have been killed in the strike.
The Pakistani government confirmed that the US did indeed launch the attack in a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that condemned the military action.
“The Government of Pakistan condemns the incident of US drone strike that took place in Datta Khel, North Waziristan on Wednesday, 24 September 2014,” The statement says. “Pakistan regards such strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The Pakistani government has condemned US strikes in the past, including an attack that killed Hakeemullah Mehsud, the previous leader of the al Qaeda-linked Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and another that killed three Haqqani Network leaders, including a top commander who is said to be a senior financier and aide to the group’s operational leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani. [See Threat Matrix reports, Pakistan condemns drone strike that killed Hakeemullah Mehsud, and Pakistan ‘strongly condemns’ drone strike that killed Haqqani Network leaders.]
The Pakistani government also says that with its “decisive” military operation in North Waziristan, “there is no need for such strikes.” The military launched an operation in the Taliban and al Qaeda-infested tribal agency on June 15 and has claimed remarkable success, but only one senior Taliban leader has been reported killed in the operation. [See LWJ report, Pakistani Taliban commander killed during fighting in North Waziristan.]
The Pakistani military appears to be focusing on foreign terrorist groups as well as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and is not confronting the Haqqani Network or the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group. These two independent Taliban factions are considered “good Taliban” as they do not openly advocate attacking the Pakistan state. But the Haqqanis and the Bahadar group, the two most powerful Taliban factions in North Waziristan, shelter and support al Qaeda, IMU, TIP, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (the “bad Taliban”). [See LWJ report, Pakistan launches ‘comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists’ in North Waziristan, and Threat Matrix report, Pakistani forces focus on ‘foreigners’ in North Waziristan operation.]
The US has now carried out eight drone strikes in Pakistan since June 11. Seven of the strikes took place after June 15, when the Pakistani military launched its operation in North Waziristan.
Prior to the June 11 drone strike, the last US attack took place in late December 2013. The US put the program on hold after the Pakistani government entered into peace talks with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that there was no shortage of al Qaeda and other terrorists to target during the six-month lull. [See LWJ report, US launches 2 drone strikes in Pakistan, breaks 6-month lull.]
Today’s strike is the fifth in Datta Khel since July 10. The last five strikes in Pakistan have all taken place in the Datta Khel area. The most recent strike, which took place on Aug. 6, killed five jihadists, including unnamed “foreigners.”
A strike on July 19 killed eight militants, including two commanders from the Punjabi Taliban, a conglomeration of jihadist groups from Pakistan’s Punjab province. The Punjabi Taliban commanders’ names were not disclosed by Pakistani officials. The Punjabi Taliban, whose leader, Asmatullah Muawiya, also serves as an al Qaeda commander, has been agreeable to conducting peace talks with the Pakistani government. [See LWJ report, US drones target ‘Punjabi Taliban’ in North Waziristan strike.]
The US is thought to have killed six al Qaeda leaders and operatives in the July 10 drone strike in Datta Khel. Sanafi al Nasr, a senior al Qaeda leader based in Syria, identified three of those killed as Taj al Makki, Abu Abdurahman al Kuwaiti, and Fayez Awda al Khalidi. [See LWJ report, 6 al Qaeda operatives thought killed in recent drone strike in Pakistan.]
The Datta Khel area, where today’s strike took place, is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to senior al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadist groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to operate a command center in Datta Khel. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri; Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army.