The US killed four “militants” in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan late last night. The strike is the first in Pakistan in a month.
The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the village of Qutab Khel near Miramshah in North Waziristan just after midnight, according to Dawn. Several of the unmanned strike aircraft were seen hovering over the compound before and after the strike.
The target of the latest strike in Pakistan was not revealed, and no senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied jihadist commanders have been reported killed at this time. Pakistani officials told Dawn that Afghans were thought to be among those killed.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “strongly” condemned the strike and said it was “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The Pakistani government described the attack in North Waziristan as “counter-productive,” despite the fact that the last two leaders of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians and security personnel, have been killed in drone strikes.
The attack took place in an area under the control of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban faction that operates in eastern, central, and northern Afghanistan, and is based in North Waziristan in Pakistan. The US has stepped up its targeting of the Haqqani Network this year. Since the beginning of September, two top Haqqani Network leaders, Mullah Sangeen Zadran and Maulvi Ahmed Jan, have been killed in strikes in North Waziristan.
The terror group has close links with al Qaeda, and is supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network and 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.
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 Haqqani Network or allied Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The Haqqanis and Bahadar’s fighters are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Today’s strike is the first recorded in Pakistan this month. Last month, the US conducted three airstrikes in North Waziristan, and killed two top jihadist leaders. On Nov. 1, the US killed Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in an attack in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan. The next strike, on Nov. 21, killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top leader in the Haqqani Network, and two other Haqqani Network senior commanders. And the last strike, on Nov. 28, is said to have killed a Pakistani from Punjab province who was involved in terror attacks inside Pakistan.
The last four strikes have taken place in areas administered by the Haqqani Network.
The strike near Miramshah today took place days after the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Ansar al Mujahideen clashed with Pakistani troops in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The jihadist groups have targeted Pakistani security forces in suicide and IED attacks. The groups have claimed that the attacks were carried out to punish the troops for cooperating with the US in drone strikes that have killed top Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders. [See LWJ, Ansarul Mujahideen kills 4 Pakistani troops in North Waziristan, and Pakistani military, Taliban clash in North Waziristan after suicide attack].
Background on US strikes in Pakistan
The vast majority of the US drone strikes have taken place in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan. Of the 354 strikes since 2004, 253 have hit targets in North Waziristan, and 83 have hit targets in South Waziristan. In the other tribal areas, there have been three strikes in Bajaur, two in Arakzai, four in Kurram, and five in Khyber. Four more strikes have taken place outside of the tribal areas; three were in Bannu and one more was in Hangu.
The drone strikes are controversial; in October, groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International formally accused the US of indiscriminately killing civilians in strikes in both Pakistan and Yemen. But at the end of October, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence released a report stating that 67 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since the beginning of 2009, and claimed that no civilians have been killed since the beginning of 2012.
The Long War Journal has recorded, based on Pakistani press reports, that at least 2,088 jihadists from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of terror groups operating in North and South Waziristan have been killed in strikes since the beginning of 2009, including some of al Qaeda’s top leaders. There have also been 105 reported civilian deaths in drone strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with 18 civilians killed since the beginning of 2012. Civilian casualties are difficult to assess as the strikes take place in areas under Taliban control; the figure may be higher than 105.
The US has launched 28 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 each year since the program’s 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, but al Qaeda and allied groups are known to have an extensive network throughout all of Pakistan.