Center for Strategic Communication

The US killed another al Qaeda commander in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today.

The remotely-piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired several missiles at a compound in the village of Tapi near Miramshah in North Waziristan, according to Reuters. An al Qaeda commander known as Mohammad Ahmed al Mansoor and three of his family members were killed in the attack, the Express Tribune reported.

Al Mansoor was a midlevel al Qaeda commander, US intelligence officials who are familiar with al Qaeda’s operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan told The Long War Journal. One intelligence official said that Al Mansoor was “one of many Pakistanis who are filling out leadership positions in al Qaeda.” Two other senior Pakistani al Qaeda leaders have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas so far this year.

Al Mansoor is the fourth mid-to-senior-level al Qaeda leader reported to have been killed in four drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas since Nov. 29. The most senior of them, Khalid bin Abdul Rahman al Husainan, a religious leader who is also known as a Abu Zeid al Kuwaiti, is reported to have been killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan on Dec. 6. Two midlevel al Qaeda military commanders, Abdul Rehman al Zaman Yemeni and Sheikh Abdul Bari, are reported to have been killed in airstrikes in South Waziristan on Dec. 1 and Nov. 29, respectively.

The four drone strikes in North and South Waziristan since Nov. 29 ended a 36-day-long hiatus in the strike campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. 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.

Background on the US strikes in Pakistan

Today’s strike is the 23rd 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 44 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Twenty-five of the strikes have taken place since the beginning of June; 20 occurred in North Waziristan, four 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 other 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 44 strikes in Pakistan against al Qaeda and allied terror groups, just six more than the 38 strikes this year in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2011, the US launched 64 strikes in Pakistan, versus only 10 in Yemen.