The US launched its second drone strike in two days in Pakistan’s Taliban controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed the attack and “strongly condemns” it.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in Mohammed Khel village in the Datta Khel area of the tribal agency, Dawn reported. The strike killed “three rebels,” a Pakistani intelligence official claimed. The identities of those killed were not disclosed.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement denouncing the US strike and called for the US to bring a halt to the program that targets al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of terrorist groups operating in North and South Waziristan.
“These unilateral strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pakistan has repeatedly emphasized the importance of bringing an immediate end to drone strikes,” a statement released on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website said.
“The Government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications,” the statement continued.
Today’s strike follows another yesterday that killed three militants in the Ghulam Khan area of North Waziristan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not condemn yesterday’s strike.
The US has launched 23 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.
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 the terms of its 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 348 drone strikes that have taken place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, 97 of the strikes, or 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 been confined mostly to North and South Waziristan; 338 of the 348 strikes recorded since 2004, or 97%, have taken place in the two tribal agencies. But al Qaeda and allied groups are known to have an extensive network throughout all of Pakistan.