US drones are reported to have killed two “militants,” including a “foreign national,” as they rode on horseback in the terrorist hub of Datta Khel in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strike today is the first reported by the US in Pakistan in 29 days.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a pair of “militants” as they were riding horses in the village of Degan in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. The two militants and their horses are reported to have been killed, Pakistani intelligence officials told Dawn.
The identities and affiliation of those killed have not been disclosed. AFP reported that a “foreign national” was killed in the strike.
Today’s strike in North Waziristan is the first reported in Pakistan’s tribal areas since Feb. 8, when US drones killed two Arab al Qaeda operatives and four Uzbeks in North Waziristan. The Arabs were identified as Sheikh Abu Waqas, a Yemeni explosives expert, and Abu Majid al Iraqi. The four Uzbeks, who were likely from the al Qaeda-allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, were not identified. The strike took place as the foreign fighters were having dinner with members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. A previous strike, on Feb. 6 in North Waziristan, is said to have killed five militants.
The two strikes in February have recently stirred up some controversy. The New York Times reported earlier this month that those two strikes were not carried out by the US. The report was based on interviews with “three American officials with knowledge of the program.” The officials claimed one of the strikes was likely a Pakistani operation and that the other explosion may have been caused by infighting within the Taliban.
However, US intelligence officials involved with the drone program in Pakistan have told The Long War Journal that the two February strikes were indeed US operations.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations, the military’s public relations branch, denied The New York Times report and claimed it was a “distortion of the facts and seems to be aimed at diluting Pakistan’s stance on drone strikes.”
Datta Khel area is a terrorist hub
The Datta Khel area, where today’s strike took place, is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadist groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to operate a command center in Datta Khel. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel.
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. In June 2012, Bahadar banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan in protest of US drone strikes.
Bahadar and the Taliban maintain a “peace agreement” with the Pakistani military that allows him to run a state within a state in the remote tribal agency. Bahadar and his commanders have set up a parallel administration, complete with courts, recruiting centers, prisons, training camps, and the ability to levy taxes.
The peace agreement allows North Waziristan to serve as a base for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and nonaligned Taliban groups, as well as the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, and a host of Pakistani terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Punjabi Taliban.
Bahadar wields considerable power in North Waziristan. In July 2011, a spokesman for Bahadar claimed that there were no “militants” in North Waziristan, and that Bahadar’s Taliban faction has lived up to its terms of a peace agreement with the Pakistani military. But, as documented here at The Long War Journal numerous times, Bahadar provides support and shelter for top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from a number of Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Bahadar’s Taliban subgroup is a member of the Shura-e-Murakeba, an al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban-brokered alliance that includes the Haqqani Network, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and the Mullah Nazir Group in South Waziristan.
In June 2012, Bahadar suspended polio vaccination programs in North Waziristan in protest against the US drone strikes in North Waziristan. Bahadar has objected to the US drone strikes in the past. On Nov. 12, 2011, Bahadar suspended meetings with the government and threatened to attack the Pakistani state if it continued to allow the US to conduct attacks in areas under his control.
The US has conducted numerous airstrikes against terrorist targets in areas under Bahadar’s control. Of the 335 drone strikes that have taken place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, 93 of the strikes, or nearly 28 percent, have occurred in areas directly under the control of Bahadar. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013, for information on US airstrikes.]
The US has targeted al Qaeda’s top leaders and its external operations network, as well as the assortment of Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups operating in the region. The strikes have mostly been confined to a small kill box consisting of North and South Waziristan. Of the 335 strikes recorded since 2004, 318, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies.