The US launched its first airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies in 11 days, killing four “militants,” including possibly some foreigners.
The remotely-piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Hisokhel near Mir Ali in North Waziristan, according to Dawn. The house was destroyed and four “militants,” a term used by Pakistani intelligence officials to describe jihadists of all stripes, were reported to have been killed.
Although the identities of those killed have not been disclosed, “some foreigners” are believed to have been in the compound when the drones struck.
In addition to the strike in North Waziristan, a US drone is reported to have crashed in the neighboring tribal agency of South Waziristan. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal who are involved in the attacks in Pakistan would not confirm or deny the report of a lost drone.
Today’s strike is the first since a burst of four attacks by US drones between Nov. 29 and Dec. 9 that are thought to have killed a senior al Qaeda leader and three midlevel commanders. Al Qaeda has not officially confirmed the deaths of the four leaders. The most senior of them, Khalid bin Abdul Rahman al Husainan, a religious leader who is also known as 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. And on Dec. 9, the drones are thought to have killed a commander known as Mohammad Ahmed al Mansoor and three of his family members.
The four drone strikes in North and South Waziristan between Nov. 29 and Dec. 9 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.
Mir Ali is a terrorist haven
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda’s external operations network. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area. Moreover, Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils.
Since Sept. 8, 2010, several Germans and Britons have been reported killed in Predator strikes in the Mir Ali area. The Europeans were members of the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), an al Qaeda affiliate based in the vicinity of Mir Ali. The IJG members are believed to have been involved in an al Qaeda plot that targeted several major European cities and was modeled after the terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008. The European plot was orchestrated by Ilyas Kashmiri, the al Qaeda leader who was killed in a US drone strike in June 2011.
Mir Ali also hosts at least three suicide training camps for the the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. In early 2011, a Fedayeen-i-Islam spokesman claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers have trained at three camps. One failed suicide bomber corroborated the Fedayeen spokesman’s statement, claiming that more than 350 suicide bombers trained at his camp.
Prior to this year, the US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill members involved in the European plot. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region. These groups are given aid and shelter by Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup run by Siraj and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Hafiz Gul Bahadar or the Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
Today’s strike is the 24th 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.
US officials said in November 2011 that only two senior al Qaeda leaders, Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al Libi, were left in the organization, and that the terror group would collapse once the two leaders were killed.
The US has carried out 45 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Twenty-six of the strikes have taken place since the beginning of June; 21 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 al Qaeda commanders 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 drone campaign 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 45 strikes in Pakistan against al Qaeda and allied terror groups, just seven 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.