Asmatullah Muawiya (center), from a March 2013 video. Osama bin Laden is to Muawiya’s left, and Rasheed Ghazi, the slain leader of the Lal Masjid, is to his right. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
The US targeted a dual-hatted Pakistani Taliban leader and al Qaeda commander in one of two drone strikes that took place today in Pakistan’s jihadist haven of North Waziristan.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or Reapers launched two airstrikes in the Shawal area of North Waziristan, killing nine people, including four “foreigners,” a term used to describe members of al Qaeda or other foreign jihadist groups, The New York Times reported. The Shawal Valley is a known haven for a host of jihadist groups, including al Qaeda and a multitude of Pakistani Taliban groups.
The first strike targeted a vehicle as it traveled in the Shawal area, killing four “Uzbeks,” a Pakistani security official told the Times. The Uzbeks are likely members of the al Qaeda and the Taliban-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The second strike targeted “a compound in Kund Sar in the Shawal Valley,” where Asmatullah Muawiya was sheltering, the Times reported. Five people were killed in the attack, but it is unclear if Muawiya was among them.
Muawiya is the emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Punjab, which is more commonly called the Punjabi Taliban. He is also known to be the commander of what Osama bin Laden described as one of several al Qaeda military “companies.” [See LWJ report, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan].
Muawiya broke with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the summer of 2013 when he decided to halt attacks against the Pakistani government and focus his group’s efforts in Afghanistan. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan claimed to have expelled Muawiya, but the Punjabi Taliban commander denied that he was subservient to the group to begin with. [See Threat Matrix report, Did the TTP ‘expel’ Asmatullah Muawiya?]
The Shawal Valley, which is administered by Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar and spans both North and South Waziristan, is a known haven for al Qaeda and other terror groups operating in the region. A number of Taliban, Pakistani, and foreign terrorist groups gather in the Shawal Valley and then enter Afghanistan to fight US, NATO, and Afghan government forces.
The US has now launched 24 drone strikes in Pakistan this year. Six of those strikes, or 25 percent, have taken place in the Shawal Valley, and eleven, or 46 percent occurred in Datta Khel, which is also an al Qaeda and jihadist hub in the tribal agency.
All 24 attacks by the US 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.