Today the US launched its first drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan in more than a year.
The CIA-operated remotely piloted Predators or Reapers struck a compound in the town of Wana in South Waziristan, Pakistani officials and Taliban fighters told Dawn.
“Two Arab militants and two of their local allies” were killed in the airstrike, the officials and Taliban fighters said. The “Arab militants,” who have yet to be named, are likely members of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has not released an official statement announcing the deaths of their operatives, nor has their been chatter on the al Qaeda-linked Twitter accounts associated with the group’s network in Afghanistan.
Wana is a hub for the Mullah Nazir Group, a Taliban organization that controls much of the western part of South Waziristan. The group is named after Mullah Nazir, a Taliban commander who self-identified as an al Qaeda leader before he was killed in a US drone strike in January 2013. The group is currently led by Bahawal Khan, who is also known as Salahuddin Ayubi.
The Mullah Nazir group, Khan, and a leader known as Commander Malang are all on the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists for supporting al Qaeda and waging jiahd in Afghanistan. [See LWJ reports, ‘Good’ Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, US adds Mullah Nazir Group, subcommander to terrorism list, and US adds emir of Pakistan-based Mullah Nazir Group to list of global terrorists].
The Mullah Naziri Group has sheltered several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi. All of these al Qaeda leaders were killed in US drone strikes in South Waziristan over the past several years.
Despite the Mullah Nazir Group’s support for al Qaeda and its attacks in Afghanistan as well as against the Pakistani military, Nazir and his group have long been described by Pakistani officials as ‘good Taliban.’ In the eyes of Pakistani officials, Nazir and his followers serve as strategic depth against India and a hedge against Indian interests in Afghanistan. In the past, the Pakistani government and military have signed several peace agreements with Nazir that allowed him to rule over the Wazir areas of South Waziristan. One such peace agreement is in effect to this day.
First drone strike in South Waziristan since April 2013
Today’s strike in Wana is the first that has been recorded in South Waziristan since April 17, 2013, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Five Taliban fighters were reported to have been killed in that strike, which targeted a base that was run by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The US used to routinely conduct drone strikes in South Waziristan prior to April 2013. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders were killed by US aircraft in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency.
The focus of the drone campaign shifted almost exclusively to North Waziristan in the past year. Prior to today, 30 of the 31 recorded drone strikes in Pakistan took place in North Waziristan (the other took place in the Pakistani district of Hangu).
The US has now carried out nine drone strikes in Pakistan since June 11. Eight of the strikes took place after June 15, when the Pakistani military launched its operation in North Waziristan. The Pakistani military is not targeting the ‘good Taliban’ in its operation.
Prior to the June 11 drone strike, the last US attack in Pakistan took place in late December 2013. The US put the program on hold after the Pakistani government entered into peace talks with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that there was no shortage of al Qaeda and other terrorists to target during the six-month lull. [See LWJ report, US launches 2 drone strikes in Pakistan, breaks 6-month lull.]
Today’s attack in South Waziristan is the second in Pakistan this week. On Sept. 24, the US killed 10 jihadists, including Uzbek fighters, “foreign nationals,” and local Taliban members.