Today, the US launched its fifth drone strike in Pakistan’s Waziristan region in the past five days. Four people are reported to have been killed in today’s strike.
Pakistani officials said that the CIA-operated, remotely piloted Reapers or Predators fired missiles at a vehicle as it traveled in the village of Loman in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, Dawn reported.
Of the five strikes reported in North and South Waziristan in the past five days, three took place in the Shawal Valley, which spans both tribal agencies, and two occurred in Datta Khel in North Waziristan. Both Datta Khel and the Shawal Valley are known havens for al Qaeda and also serve as transit points for jihadists entering or leaving Afghanistan.
The flurry of operations in such a relatively short time period indicates the US is hunting for a senior al Qaeda or allied jihadist leader in Pakistan’s tribal areas. No senior jihadists leaders or operatives have been reported killed in the five strikes.
US intelligence officials familiar with the drone program in Pakistan who were contacted by The Long War Journal would neither confirm nor deny that the CIA is hunting a top-level al Qaeda leader in the tribal areas.
The US has carried out 14 drone strikes inside Pakistan this year; all 14 have taken place since June 11. The US drone program in Pakistan was put on hold from the end of December 2013 up until June 11, 2014 as the Pakistani government attempted to negotiate a peace deal with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that wages jihad in Afghanistan and seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state.
Background on Datta Khel, an al Qaeda hub
The Datta Khel area, where today’s strike took place, is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to senior 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 have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, 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. Yazid, al Libi, and al Zahibi were killed in 2010.
Despite US government claims that al Qaeda’s core has been “decimated” in Pakistan’s tribal areas, leaders of the terror group continue to operate in the region, including in Datta Khel.
The US killed six al Qaeda leaders and operatives in a drone strike in Datta Khel on July 10. Their deaths were reported by Sanafi al Nasr, a senior al Qaeda leader based in Syria who communicates with al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He identified three of those killed as Taj al Makki, Abu Abdurahman al Kuwaiti, and Fayez Awda al Khalidi. [See LWJ report, 6 al Qaeda operatives thought killed in recent drone strike in Pakistan.]
Another strike, on July 19, killed eight militants, including two commanders from the Punjabi Taliban, a conglomeration of jihadist groups from Pakistan’s Punjab province. The Punjabi Taliban commanders’ names were not disclosed by Pakistani officials. Asmatullah Muawiya, the leader of the Punjabi Taliban, also serves as an al Qaeda commander and he has been agreeable to conducting peace talks with the Pakistani government. [See LWJ report, US drones target ‘Punjabi Taliban’ in North Waziristan strike.]
And an Aug. 6 strike killed five jihadists, including unnamed “foreigners,” a term reserved for al Qaeda and other allied groups not originating in Pakistan.