The US killed three “militants,” including “foreigners,” in the first drone strike recorded in Pakistan in more than a month.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers fired several missiles today at a compound in the village of Shin Warzak in South Waziristan, Dawn reported. According to Geo News, the drone strike targeted a vehicle and killed three people, including “foreigners.” The term ‘foreigners’ is often used to describe Arab al Qaeda operatives or members of regional terror groups outside of Pakistan. In an attempt to limit civilian casualties, the US often fires missiles at vehicles thought to be transporting terrorists.
Today’s attack ends a 36-day-long hiatus in the strike campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The last strike took place on Oct. 24, when four “militants” and one civilian were killed in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
The pause in strikes was the second longest since the US campaign was ramped up in the summer of 2008 under the Bush administration. The longest pause was 55 days, from Nov. 26, 2011, to Jan. 10, 2012, when the Obama administration put the program on hold after US and Pakistani forces clashed in Mohmand. Pakistani troops had attacked US forces on the Afghan side of the border, and the ensuing firefight resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers. The US later apologized for the incident, despite having been attacked first by the Pakistani soldiers who failed to disengage after US aircraft signaled that US forces were involved.
US intelligence officials involved in the drone program would not comment on the reasons for the long pause in strikes. One intelligence official contacted by The Long War Journal said that “it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of targets.”
“Pakistan is a target-rich environment,” the official continued. “We’re only scratching at the surface, hitting them in the tribal areas, while the country remains infested with al Qaeda and their allies.”
Strike takes place in territory under control of “good Taliban” leader
Today’s strike took place in an area under the control of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Wazir areas of South Waziristan. Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state.
Several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, have been killed while being sheltered by Nazir. [For more information on Nazir and al Qaeda leaders killed while under his protection, see LWJ reports, ‘Good’ Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, and US drones kill ‘good’ Taliban commander in South Wazirstan.]
Mullah Nazir’s Taliban faction is one of four major Taliban groups that have joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda late last year. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; the Haqqani Network; and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud. The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
Also, in June, Nazir banned polio vaccinations in his areas, and claimed that the program is being used by the US to gather intelligence and conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas. He followed Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who shut down the program in North Waziristan earlier that month.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s strike is the 20th in Pakistan since June 4, when the US killed Abu Yahya al Libi, one of al Qaeda’s top leaders, propagandists, and religious figures. Abu Yahya was killed in a strike on a compound in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkmen fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were reportedly among the 14 terrorists killed along with Abu Yahya.
The US has carried out 41 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Twenty-two of the strikes have taken place since the beginning of June; 18 occurred in North Waziristan, three were in South Waziristan, and one has taken place in Arakzai. [For data on the strikes, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012; and Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012.]
The drone program was scaled back dramatically from the end of March to the beginning of the fourth week in May. Between March 30 and May 22, the US conducted only three drones strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as US officials attempted to renegotiate the reopening of NATO’s supply lines, which were closed from the end of November 2011 until July 3. Pakistan closed the supply lines following the Mohmand incident in November 2011.
In addition to Abu Yahya, three other high-value targets have been confirmed killed in the strikes in Pakistan this year. A Jan. 11 strike in Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network.
On Feb. 8, the US killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a strike in Miramshah’s bazaar. Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border, and linked up members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with al Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden described Mansoor as one of several commanders of al Qaeda’s “companies” operating in the tribal areas. He was later promoted to lead al Qaeda’s forces in the tribal areas.
And sometime earlier this year, a US drone strike killed Abu Usman Adil, the emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Adil succeeded Tahir Yuldashev, the co-founder of the IMU, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2009. Adil is credited with increasing the IMU’s profile in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the death of Yuldashev, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Whereas Yuldashev had been content with confining the group’s operations largely to Pakistan’s tribal areas, Adil pushed to expand operations in northern and eastern Afghanistan, as well as in the Central Asian republics.
Four senior jihadist leaders, including Abu Kasha al Iraqi and Fateh al Turki, are reported to have been killed in drone strikes in North Waziristan since the beginning of August, although their deaths have not been confirmed. Badruddin Haqqani, a top leader in the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, is thought to have been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan. Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and a Haqqani Network spokesman denied reports that claimed Badruddin was killed, and said he “is in the country and he is occupied with his operational responsibilities.” Afghan, Pakistani, and US intelligence officials have said that Badruddin is dead.
And Emeti Yakuf, who is also known as Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, may have been killed in the Aug. 24 drone strike in North Waziristan’s Shawal Valley that hit a training camp. Yakuf directs al Qaeda operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The program has been scaled down from its peak in 2010, when the US conducted 117 strikes, according to data collected by The Long War Journal. In 2011, the US carried out just 64 strikes in Pakistan’s border regions.
So far this year, the US has launched just three more strikes in Pakistan (41) against al Qaeda and allied terror groups than it has in Yemen (38) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2011, the US launched only 10 airstrikes in Yemen, versus 64 in Pakistan.