The US targeted the Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup that is closely tied to al Qaeda, in the first strike in Pakistan in more than three weeks.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at a compound in the village of Danday Darpa Khel near Miramshah in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, The Associated Press reported.
Pakistani officials told the news agency that four Haqqani Network members were killed and two more were wounded. Reuters later reported that 17 people, most of whom were Haqqani Network fighters, were killed in the airstrike.
The target of the strike has not been disclosed, and no senior Haqqani, Taliban, or al Qaeda commanders are reported to have been killed at this time. Haji Shahrifullah, a senior Haqqani network commander in the area, was not killed in the attack, according to Dawn.
Danday Darpa Khel is a known hub of the Haqqani Network. Two of the group’s top leaders have been killed in US drone strikes in the village over the past several years. On Oct. 13, 2011, a strike killed Jan Baz Zadran, a top-level coordinator for the Haqqani Network who has been described as the organization’s third in command. Jan Baz was a key deputy to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the terror network.
On Feb. 18, 2010, US drones killed Mohammed Haqqani, one of the 12 sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the patriarch of the family. Mohammed served as a military commander for the Haqqani Network.
The Haqqani Network is a powerful Taliban faction that operates in eastern, central, and northern Afghanistan, and is based in North Waziristan in Pakistan. The terror group has close links with al Qaeda, and is supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Siraj leads the Miramshah Shura, one of four major Taliban regional councils. Siraj is also a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
Since 2008, nine top Haqqani Network leaders, including Sirajuddin, have been placed on the US list of terrorists; six of them were designated in 2011. All of them have ties to al Qaeda. Jalaluddin has not been added to the list. For more information on the Haqqani Network, see LWJ report, US adds Haqqani Network to list of terror groups.
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 the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network or Hafiz Gul Bahadar, another powerful Taliban leader who operates in the tribal agency. The Haqqanis and Bahadar and are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Today’s strike is just the second since President Barack Obama’s speech at the end of May outlining a reduced US counterterrorism role in the world. Obama said that the drones, which are currently operated by the CIA, will eventually be turned over to the military, and that the pace of the strikes will be reduced. Obama claimed that al Qaeda has been sufficiently weakened, despite the fact that the terrorist organization has expanded its operations in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, and in North and West Africa.
The strike today in North Waziristan is the first by the US inside Pakistan in 25 days. The last US strike took place on June 7, when US drones killed six terrorists in a strike in North Waziristan. A “high value target” was reported to have been killed, but was never named. The previous strike, on May 29, killed Waliur Rehman, the top Taliban commander in South Waziristan who was closely allied with al Qaeda.
The US has launched 16 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. The number of strikes in Pakistan has decreased since a peak in 2010, when 117 such attacks were recorded. In 2011, 64 strikes were launched in Pakistan, and in 2012 there were 46 strikes.
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 been confined mostly to North and South Waziristan. Of the 340 strikes recorded since 2004, 323, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies.