Center for Strategic Communication

The US killed seven suspected militants in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Today’s strike is just the second in Pakistan this month.

The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at “two houses suspected of being a militant hideout” in the Shawal area of North Waziristan this afternoon, Xinhua reported. The identities of the fighters thought to have been killed have not been disclosed.

The Shawal Valley is a known haven for al Qaeda and other terror groups operating in the region. A host of Taliban, Pakistani, and foreign terrorist groups gather in the Shawal Valley and then enter Afghanistan to fight US, NATO, and Afghan government forces.

The last US drone strike to hit the Shawal Valley took place on July 28. Three al Qaeda military trainers from the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, were among those killed in the attack. The al Qaeda fighters were identified as Abu Rashid from Saudi Arabia, Muhammed Ilyas Kuwaiti from Kuwait, and Muhammed Sajid Yamani from Yemen.

The previous strike in Shawal, on June 7, killed a key Pakistani Taliban commander who was known as Mutaqi and Bahadar Khan.

In the past, the US has focused its operations on the Shawal Valley. Last year, 10 of the 46 drone strikes in Pakistan, or 22%, hit targets in the Shawal Valley. Targeting in the area was heavy during the summer of 2012; at one point in time, seven of 10 strikes took place there.

Al Qaeda, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Taliban fighters under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan, are all known to operate in the Shawal Valley, which is near the Afghan border. The area is used to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan. Additionally, Central Asian terror groups are known to operate in the area. On July 1, 2012, a US drone strike killed several members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that operates in Pakistan, China, and Central Asia.

Bahadar administers the Shawal Valley. In 2009, after the Pakistani military launched an offensive in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, Bahadar sheltered the families of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman [see LWJ report, Taliban escape South Waziristan operation]. Earlier this year, the US killed Waliur Rehman along with his deputy Fakhar-ul-Islam, two Uzbeks, and three Taliban fighters in a drone strike in North Waziristan on May 29.

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 al Qaeda-linked 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 against US drone strikes.

Today’s strike in Shawal is the first since Sept. 5, when the US killed four Haqqani Network fighters. Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior Haqqani network leader, is rumored to have been killed in the strike. His death has not been confirmed.

The US has launched 21 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 346 strikes recorded since 2004, 329, or 95%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies. But al Qaeda is known to have an extensive network throughout Pakistan.