The US is reported to have killed a “senior Arab commander” in a drone strike today in Pakistan’s Taliban-infested tribal agency of South Waziristan. The strike took place in an area where, less than two years ago, the US killed a Taliban commander who was supported by the Pakistani state.
Today’s drone strike took place in the Birmal area of South Waziristan, a known Taliban stronghold. The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers killed five jihadists, including one described by a villager as “a senior Arab commander,” in a strike on a compound, Reuters reported.
“The bodies were taken to an unknown location after the attack,” the news agency stated. A number of “foreign guests,” a reference to al Qaeda and other jihadist groups from outside of Pakistan, were meeting at the compound.
The Arab commander was identified as “Adil,” according to Dawn.
Additionally, Pakistani intelligence officials claimed that a Haqqani Network commander known as Abdullah Haqqani was also among those killed in the strike, Khaama Press reported. Abdullah is said to run suicide bombers into Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network is a Taliban subgroup that is closely allied with al Qaeda, and is also considered by the Pakistani government to be “good Taliban.”
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other jihadist groups known to operate in the area have not released a statement announcing the death of a senior leader.
The US has launched three other drone strikes in Birmal since June 2011. The most recent strike, on Jan. 3, 2013, killed Mullah Nazir, a Taliban commander in South Waziristan who openly identified as an al Qaeda leader. Nazir was supported by the Pakistani state because he was considered to be part of the “good Taliban,” or Taliban groups that wage jihad against the West and in Afghanistan but do not advocate attacking the Pakistani state.
The US government has a different view of Nazir and his network. Just two months Nazir’s death in a drone strike, the US added the Mullah Nazir Group and a subcommander to the list of global terrorists. And in August 2013, the US added Bahawal Khan, the new leader of the Mullah Nazir Group, to the terrorism list. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed by US drones in areas under the control of the Mullah Nazir Group. [For more information on the designations and the so-called “good Taliban,” see LWJ reports, US adds Mullah Nazir Group, subcommander to terrorism list and US adds emir of Pakistan-based Mullah Nazir Group to list of global terrorists.]
US strikes in Pakistan
Despite US government officials’ claims that al Qaeda has been “decimated” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the CIA continues to target the group’s command and control in the region.
The CIA, which operates the drone program in Pakistan, has launched eight strikes in North and South Waziristan in October. This is the highest number of strikes in Pakistan a single month since January 2013, when seven were launched. The US has averaged between two to three strikes a month, excluding a gap in 2014 between January and May, when no strikes were launched.
In the last drone strike, on Oct. 11, the US killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), a senior leader in al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, al Qaeda’s newest branch. The strike, which took place in North Waziristan, also killed a “good Taliban” commander who served in the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group. [See LWJ reports, US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official and AQIS leader, ‘good’ Taliban commander killed in 2 US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.]
The US has carried out 17 drone strikes inside Pakistan this year; all 17 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.
Eight of the 17 strikes have occurred since Oct. 5. Five of the strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, and there have also been two in South Waziristan and one in Khyber.