A senior al Qaeda commander is reported to have been killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas yesterday. If his death is confirmed, it would mean that two al Qaeda leaders have been killed by US and Pakistani forces over the weekend.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the village of Khar Tangi in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan during the early morning of Dec. 7, killing upwards of six jihadists, according to reports from Pakistan. Several fighters from the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, a Taliban faction that is supported by the Pakistani state, are said to be among those killed.
There is some confusion over the identity of the al Qaeda leader who is reported to have been killed. Both Reuters and Dawn identified him as Omar Farooq (“alias Omar Ustad and Ustad Farooq,” according to Dawn), who is described as al Qaeda’s spokesman and emir for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Express Tribune also named the slain al Qaeda leader as Omar Farooq, but described him as al Qaeda’s “coordinator for the Arab region and Pakistan.” The name of al Qaeda’s spokesman for Pakistan is Ustad Ahmad Farooq, rather than Omar Farooq. [See LWJ reports, Al Qaeda eulogizes senior commander killed in recent drone strike and Al Qaeda weighs in on the Malala shooting.]
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they are aware of reports of the death of a senior al Qaeda leader in Sunday’s drone strike, but would not comment on the identity of who was targeted. One intelligence official noted that Omar Farooq is a common nom de guerre for Pakistani jihadists.
Al Qaeda and its official branch in the region, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), have not released an official statement confirming or denying the death of a senior leader, nor are al Qaeda-linked jihadists discussing reports of the death on social media sites.
If Farooq’s death is confirmed, he would be the second al Qaeda leader killed in Waziristan last weekend. On Dec. 6, the Pakistani military claimed it killed Adnan Shukrijumah, al Qaeda’s operations chief for North America, in a raid in Spin Warzak, South Waziristan.
The Datta Khel area in North Waziristan, where yesterday’s drone strike took place, is a nexus of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan, administers the area, but the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and other jihadist groups also operate there. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, Abdullah Said al Libi, and Zuhaib al Zahibi. [See LWJ report, ‘Foreign militants’ reported killed in latest US drone strike in Pakistan, for more details on Datta Khel and senior al Qaeda leaders killed there.]
US continues to target al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas
The US has killed three other senior al Qaeda leaders in drone strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of October. AQIS confirmed that Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi, a member of the group’s shura, or executive council, was killed in a drone strike on Oct. 11. And in mid-November, the US killed AQIS leaders Adil Abdul Quoos and Dr. Sarbaland. [See LWJ reports, AQIS announces death of 2 senior leaders in US operation and US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official.]
The ongoing targeting of al Qaeda’s leadership cadre by the US in Pakistan’s tribal areas refutes past claims from Obama administration and intelligence officials that al Qaeda’s core has been “decimated”, and that the organization has been “reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat.”
US strikes in Pakistan
Yesterday’s operation in Datta Khel is the 21st strike reported in Pakistan this year. Ten of those strikes have taken place in Datta Khel, and four more in the in the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan, which is also an al Qaeda and jihadist hub in the tribal agency.
All 21 attacks have taken place since June 11. The US drone program in Pakistan was put on hold from the end of December 2013 until June 11, 2014, as the Pakistani government attempted to negotiate a peace deal with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that wages jihad in Afghanistan and seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state.