UNPRECEDENTED STRIKES IN NORTH WAZIRISTAN
February 2, 2010
Suspected U.S.-operated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) conducted coordinated missile strikes on up to four separate locations in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas on Feb. 2, resulting in a death toll that currently stands at 29.
According to reports, as many as eight UAVs were used in the strikes. The reported total number of missiles fired in the strikes in central North Waziristan varies from 12 to 18. According to Samaa news agency, 14 missiles were fired, with seven targeting sites in Degan, five in Totsirae and two in Mohammad Khel. Other reports indicate that two militant vehicles were destroyed by missiles in another nearby town, Datta Khel. A STRATFOR source has indicated that rescue efforts have been called off in Degan due to the fact that several of the missiles reportedly hit rescue vehicles entering the area.
While missile strikes from UAVs are a normal occurrence in North and South Waziristan, strikes involving more than three to four missiles are extremely rare. STRATFOR is unaware of any other attack in the region that comes close to the number of missiles used in the Feb. 2 strikes.
Three to four distinct targets were involved in the strikes, requiring multiple UAVs in the area. Witnesses reported seeing as many as five UAVs idling over the village of Datta Khel, and Pakistani authorities said the strikes were carried out by as many as eight. There is a precedent for coordinated, simultaneous UAV strikes in northwest Pakistan, but the use of up to eight UAVs for such an attack is highly unusual.
U.S.-operated UAVs are on constant patrol over North Waziristan so they can be positioned quickly over a target, enabling operators on the ground to take advantage of time-sensitive intelligence as it comes in. While it is possible these eight UAVs were repositioned over the targets once their mission had begun, the coordination behind the strikes indicates they were planned in advance and that the assets were deliberately launched with this particular mission in mind, indicating that the intelligence that spurred the strikes likely had been collected over a longer period of time.
The unusual amount of firepower brought to bear on these targets indicates that the United States was highly interested in militant activities there and wanted to make certain the targets had nowhere else to hide. The area surrounding Degan in North Waziristan reportedly belongs to the Haqqani network, a major antagonist to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. The coordinated strikes could have included either the gatherings of large numbers of militants or the targeting of a single, high-value target that the United States did not want to miss. As rumors circulate of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakeemullah Mehsud’s death due to wounds sustained in a Jan. 14 UAV strike, the Feb. 2 strikes could bring more news of deceased militant leaders in the coming days.
SUSPECTED U.S. DRONE STRIKES KILL AT LEAST 29 IN PAKISTAN
By Hasbanullah Khan
Indo-Asian News Service
February 3, 2010
Multiple missile strikes carried out by suspected U.S. pilotless drone aircraft killed at least 29 people in Pakistan's restive tribal region Tuesday, a Pakistani intelligence official said.
Several more people were injured in the air attacks that took place in at least four villages of North Waziristan district, a known sanctuary of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants conducting cross-border raids on US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"At least eight drones took part in the attack, and they have fired some 18 missiles at three training camps of Taliban, their two vehicles, and some bunkers," said a local intelligence official that spoke on condition of anonymity.
Taliban militants have fired at the U.S. aircraft from some of these bunkers. The militants shot down one drone on January 24.
"According to the initial reports we have received from various areas, at least 29 people have been killed while around a dozen more are injured," said the official about Tuesday's attack, adding that the death toll might rise.
People are buried under the debris of the demolished house, but no one dares to carry out rescue work since the drones are still flying in the area, the official said over phone. "Almost all those killed are Taliban (fighters)."
The U.S. has intensified its campaign to target militant hideouts with drone strikes in Pakistan's rugged tribal region since an Al-Qaeda double agent killed five CIA officials and two private security contractors in a suicide bombing in the Afghan province of Khost on December 30.
Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was reported to have been killed in a similar missile strike in early January, but days later he denied the reports in two audio messages released to local reporters.
Pakistan publicly opposes the air raids, saying they violate the country's territorial sovereignty and stoke anti-American sentiments among the local population.
U.S. DRONES KILL AT LEAST 10 WITH MISSILES IN NORTH WAZIRISTAN
By Matthew Rosenberg
Wall Street Journal
February 3, 2010
A barrage of missiles from U.S. drone aircraft ripped into an area of northwest Pakistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda dominate, killing at least 10 people hours after the Pakistani Taliban again denied rumors of its leader's demise.
The sheer number of missiles fired in Tuesday's strike -- a Pakistani intelligence official and witnesses estimated 16 to 18 were launched -- appeared to be the most employed in a single attack since the U.S. first began using drone aircraft to target militants in Pakistan six years ago.
The attack was the latest salvo in what has become a torrent of U.S. missile strikes in and around the North Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan in the weeks since an al Qaeda double agent killed seven agents and contractors of the Central Intelligence Agency in a suicide bombing at a U.S. base in a neighboring region of Afghanistan.
U.S. and Pakistani officials say they believe the Dec. 30 suicide attack was plotted from North Waziristan, a hub for the Afghan Taliban and its Pakistani offshoot. Al Qaeda is also active in the region, these officials say. The Afghan-Pakistan border is porous, and militants often move freely between the countries.
Tuesday's attack targeted a number of compounds and bunkers used by Taliban fighters in a North Waziristan village near the Afghan border. Two people who live in the village said vehicles were also destroyed, although they differed on whether the cars belonged to the militants or area residents.
The Pakistani intelligence official said at least 10 people died; the residents put the death toll as high as 20 and said the missile strike had set fires that were still smoldering in the village.
The CIA-operated armed drones are ordinarily used to go after top al Qaeda and Taliban militants, although U.S. officials almost never disclose the intended targets because the program is classified. It wasn't clear who was being targeted by such a heavy barrage Tuesday; Bill Roggio, whose Long War Journal Web site tracks drone attacks, said the strike involved the most missiles used in a single attack to date.
The area is a stronghold of a major Pakistan Taliban commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur. North Waziristan is also a base for Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is among the most powerful Taliban commanders on either side of the border.
The leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, is rumored to have succumbed to wounds sustained in a similar drone raid last month in North Waziristan.
The Taliban again denied those rumors Tuesday, saying he was alive but that they had no immediate plans to provide proof in the form of a video or a meeting with trusted journalists.
"We don't feel any need presently to release a video, but whenever we feel a need, we will do so," the Associated Press quoted Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq as saying. "We are not going to fall prey to this trap and make our leader vulnerable to the spy network."
U.S. and Pakistani officials say they can't confirm Mr. Mehsud's fate and are investigating the rumors, which have been floating around for about a week.
There was similar uncertainty before the death of Mr. Mehsud's predecessor in a U.S. missile strike in August was confirmed. But, in that case, the speculation didn't drag on quite so long.
Mr. Mehsud has taken responsibility for a string of brazen terror attacks inside Pakistan, and he appeared in a posthumous video with the al Qaeda bomber behind the suicide attack that killed the CIA employees in December.
Few expect that his death would be a fatal blow to the Pakistan Taliban. Instead, they believe he would quickly be replaced, just as he was able to rapidly fill the shoes of his predecessor.
PREDATORS POUND TERRORIST CAMP IN NORTH WAZIRISTAN
By Bill Roggio
Long War Journal
February 2, 2010
A swarm of unmanned U.S. aircraft pounded an al Qaeda camp today in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Five unmanned U.S. strike aircraft, likely the Predators and Reapers, are reported to have fired 18 missiles at a camp and vehicles in the village of Datta Khel, a known [an] al Qaeda and Taliban stronghold. This is the largest recorded U.S. airstrike in Pakistan, indicating a top al Qaeda, Taliban, or Haqqani Network leader, or leaders, may have been present.
Seventeen terrorists are reported to have been killed in the missile attack. At this time, no senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported killed.
The U.S. has ramped up the attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of December, after a lull in strikes in October and November of 2009, when only four airstrikes were launched. There were eight strikes in December 2009, and 11 in January of this year. Today's strike is the 12th this year. [For up-to-date charts on the U.S. air campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 - 2010.]
Today's airstrike is the 13th since Dec. 30, 2009, when a Jordanian al Qaeda operative and double agent carried out a suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan's Khost province. The bomber killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer.
Since the Dec. 30 suicide attack, the U.S. has been hunting Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Hakeemullah appeared with the Jordanian suicide bomber on a martyrdom tape that was released shortly after the attack.
Hakeemullah was rumored to have been killed in a strike on Jan. 14, but the Taliban later released a tape to confirm he is alive. Rumors of his death have since resurfaced, as unnamed tribal elders claimed Hakeemullah died from wounds received in the strike and was buried in the Arakzai tribal agency.
Pakistani Taliban leaders have since denied the rumors and claimed that Hakeemullah would release another tape to prove he is alive. But today, Azam Tariq, Hakeemullah's spokesman, backtracked on previous statements and said there is no need to release a tape, fueling suspicion the Taliban leader may have been killed.
"We don't feel any need presently to release a video, but whenever we feel a need, we will do so," Tariq told The Associated Press. "We are not going to fall prey to this trap and make our leader vulnerable to the spy network, and secondly, the leadership council has restricted the leader from speaking to the media for certain reasons."
DATTA KHEL IS A HUB OF AL QAEDA ACTIVITY
The Datta Khel region is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan, administers the region, but the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, or al Qaeda's Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel.
The Datta Khel region has been hit hard by the U.S., especially in the past several weeks. The U.S. has conducted nine airstrikes in the Datta Khel region since June 2007, and six of those nine strikes have taken place since Dec. 17, 2009.
A strike on Dec. 17, 2009, targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army or Lashkar al Zil, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, were both killed in the attack.
Datta Khel borders the Jani Khel region in the settled district of Bannu. The Jani Khel region has long been a strategic meeting place and safe haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Jani Khel was identified as the headquarters for al Qaeda's Shura Majlis back in 2007. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, has operated in the Jani Khel region. The U.S. has struck al Qaeda safe houses in Jani Khel twice since last year. These strikes are the only two Predator attacks that have occurred outside of Pakistan's tribal areas since the U.S. airstrikes began in 2004.
The town of Jani Khel is a known haven for al Qaeda leaders and fighters. Senior al Qaeda operative Abdullah Azzam al Saudi was killed in a Predator strike in Jani Khel on Nov. 19, 2008. Azzam served as a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in Pakistan's northwest.
In addition, Al Qaeda is known to have deposited its donations received from Europe into the Bayt al Mal, or Bank of Money, in Jani Khel, according to a report at the NEFA Foundation. The Bayt al Mal served as al Qaeda's treasury.
BACKGROUND ON THE RECENT STRIKES IN PAKISTAN
U.S. intelligence believes that al Qaeda has reconstituted its external operations network in Pakistan's lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. This network is tasked with hitting targets in the West, India, and elsewhere. The U.S. has struck at these external cells using unmanned Predator aircraft and other means in an effort to disrupt al Qaeda's external network and decapitate the leadership. The U.S. also has targeted al Qaeda-linked Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan, particularly the notorious Haqqani Network.
As of the summer of 2008, al Qaeda and the Taliban operated 157 known training camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Al Qaeda has been training terrorists holding Western passports to conduct attacks, U.S. intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Some of the camps are devoted to training the Taliban's military arm; some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan; some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups; some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West; some train the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army; and one serves as a training ground for the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard unit for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other senior al Qaeda leaders.
The air campaign has had success over the past two months. Since Dec. 8, 2009, the air campaign in Pakistan has killed two senior al Qaeda leaders, a senior Taliban commander, two senior al Qaeda operatives, and a wanted Palestinian terrorist who was allied with al Qaeda. The status of Hakeemullah Mehsud is still unknown.
Already this year, the U.S. has killed Mansur al Shami, an al Qaeda ideologue and aide to al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu Yazid; and Haji Omar Khan, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan. Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, the Abu Nidal Organization operative who participated in killing 22 hostages during the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am flight 73, is thought to have been killed in the Jan. 9 airstrike. And Abdul Basit Usman, an Abu Sayyaf operative with a $1 million U.S. bounty for information leading to his capture, is rumored to have been killed in a strike on Jan. 14, although a Philippine military spokesman said Usman is likely still alive and in the Philippines.
In December 2009, the U.S. killed Abdullah Said al Libi, the top commander of the Shadow Army; Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in theShadow Army; and Saleh al Somali, the leader of al Qaeda's external network [see LWJ report, “Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010” for the full list].
Global news blog
OBAMA UPS PAKISTAN DRONE STRIKES IN ASSASSINATION CAMPAIGN
By Dan Murphy
** News reports said a volley of missile strikes from US drones killed 16 alleged militants in Pakistan on Tuesday. The use of drones to assassinate Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan has soared under President Barack Obama. **
Christian Science Monitor
February 2, 2010
BOSTON -- Several U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, fired a volley of missiles at houses in a village in Pakistan's northwest on Tuesday and killed roughly 16 alleged Taliban militants, news agencies reported. Information on civilian casualties, if any, was not immediately available.
Agence France-Presse cited an unidentified Pakistani security official as saying that about 18 U.S. missiles were fired at targets in the village of Dattakhel. Earlier news reports put the death toll at about 10. A later report by CNN claimed 29 killed.
The attack is just the latest confirmation of the commitment President Barack Obama has made to the assassination campaign inside Pakistan -- a close U.S. ally -- that began under his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
The Long War Journal, a blog that focuses its coverage on the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been tracking U.S. drone and other air power attacks in Pakistan for some time. Using open-source information, the blog tallied five U.S. aerial attacks in Pakistan in 2007 and 36 in 2008, most of those in the last half of that year.
In 2009, President Obama's first year in office, the tempo of such attacks in Pakistan increased 47 percent, to 53. The vast majority of these have been carried out with drones.
Tuesday's strike brought this year's tally to 12, with just over 100 fatalities. That's just under a quarter of last year's total. If that pace were matched for the rest of the year, there will be 134 U.S. attacks inside Pakistan.
CONFLICTING PUBLIC CLAIMS
The Long War Journal says that 258 militants and 31 civilians were killed in these attacks in 2007, while 463 militants and 43 civilians were killed in 2008. It reports no civilian casualties so far this year.
To be sure, there are frequently conflicting public claims about the number of civilians or militants killed in such attacks. On a number of a occasions, senior Taliban or Al Qaeda-linked figures have been reported killed, only to emerge on videotape later to say reports of their demise were exaggerated. Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was once reported dead -- and then made a public appearance in good health. U.S. officials now say they're confident that he was killed by a December drone strike. His predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in August 2009.
Two of the men vying to replace him at the head of the country's Taliban movement have also been incorrectly reported as dead in the past.
STRIKES CONTROVERSIAL AMONG PAKISTANIS AND IN STRATEGIC CIRCLES
The drone strikes have been controversial in Pakistan, where many average citizens view them as an extra-legal violation of national sovereignty by the U.S., which may be a key provider of military and economic aid to Islamabad but is still viewed with suspicion by millions of the nation's citizens.
Pakistan has generally been officially quiet about its support for the strikes, but U.S. officials say they generally have approval for their operations and have received targeting information from the Pakistani military, which pressed major offensives against the Taliban in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley last year. The country's military has been less active in North Waziristan, where the bulk of U.S. aerial attacks have taken place, and the country says it's not planning major anti-Taliban offensives for 2010. Tuesday's strikes were in North Waziristan.
The drone strikes have been controversial in strategic circles as well. David Kilcullen, one of the most influential advisers in U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in the past few years, said he opposed drone strikes inside Pakistan last year: "Unilateral strikes against targets inside Pakistan, whatever other purpose they might serve, have an unarguably and entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability," he wrote in the Small Wars Journal.
But they have emerged as a favorite tactic of the Obama administration, and the U.S. may soon outsource such attacks to Pakistan itself. Pakistani officials have been pressing the U.S. for drones of their own, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently that's a request the administration is considering fulfilling.
SOURCES: DRONE STRIKES KILL 29 IN PAKISTAN
February 2, 2010
ISLAMABAD -- Several suspected U.S. drone strikes killed at least 29 people in Pakistan on Tuesday, Pakistani intelligence sources said.
One of the strikes targeted Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, a group based in Pakistan that targets U.S. forces and their allies in neighboring Afghanistan, said a Pakistan political source who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.
A commander of the group who spoke on the condition of anonymity told CNN that Haqqani "is alive and was not in the area at the time of the attack."
WHO IS SIRAJUDDIN HAQQANI?
The reported strikes were unusual for the relatively high number of missiles fired -- at least 17, intelligence sources said -- and for the high death toll.
U.S. drone strikes tend to kill fewer than 10 people, though one last year reportedly killed 60, said Katherine Tiedemann, a policy analyst at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington.
A death toll of 29 would represent the highest single-day death toll this year from a drone strike or strikes in Pakistan, she said.
The missiles hit targets Tuesday morning in at least four villages in North Waziristan, a region rife with Islamic extremists, the Pakistani intelligence sources said.
The strikes happened in the Datta Khel area, which has been the center of much drone activity in the past few months. Sources said drone-fired missiles hit the villages of Daigan, Muhammad Khel, Pai Khel, and Toor Narai.
U.S. officials normally do not comment on suspected drone strikes, which have raised tensions between Pakistan and the United States in the past.
The United States is the only country in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones, which are controlled remotely.
A suspected drone strike in mid-January wounded Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, intelligence officials have said. On Sunday, the Pakistani military said it was looking into a report that Mehsud had died from his injuries -- a report that the Taliban denied.
Swampland: A blog about politics
A FATAL BLOW TO THE TALIBAN?
By Joe Klein
February 2, 2010
The Washington Post is reporting that Pakistani experts believe Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban was probably killed in a drone strike -- and that his death would be a "fatal blow" to the Taliban, coming so soon after the death of his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, also in a drone attack.
To which I caution: Not so fast. First, we don't know if the fellow is dead. Second, if he is, it's entirely possible that the Pakistani Taliban will find another leader quickly -- Hakimullah had competition for the job; there are aspirants waiting in the wings. Third, even if there is an extended power struggle and the movement has been seriously weakened by a combination of drone strikes and Pakistani Army operations in South Waziristan, that doesn't mean an end to Taliban terror attacks. They will continue. The best-case scenario is that the possibility of the Taliban actually launching a broad-based popular movement to overthrow the government -- perhaps with the aid of some elements of the Army -- has been squelched.
But the most important caveat is suggested by a quote from the military leader: "Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, Pakistan's army chief, told a group of foreign journalists Monday that with 147,000 troops deployed near the Afghan border to fight Pakistani militants, and 100,000 stationed along Pakistan's eastern border with rival India, 'almost the entire army is involved in operations. We need to train and rest.'"
It is entirely possible that this whole story is an attempt by the Pakistanis to resist U.S. pressure to move the anti-Taliban fight from South Waziristan, home of the Mehsuds, to North Waziristan, home of the Haqqanis (who, in the past, have been agents of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate -- the ISI).
This raises a larger point: our gullibility when it comes to news from the region. We -- on all sides of this question -- tend to place more credence in news we like than news we don't like. A few months ago, for example, the Jordanians spun a tale -- reported here in Time -- that their double agent who bombed the CIA station in Khost had turned because he was upset about U.S. policy in the Middle East. Maybe. Or maybe the Jordanians were just trying to deflect attention from the fact that they fatally misread their double-agent. The point is, there were those, especially in the left blogosphere, who took the Jordanian spin as gospel because it reinforced their view -- a legitimate view, by the way -- that our presence in the region is only causing more trouble. (Neoconservatives have been spun, similarly, by reports of counter-insurgency "progress" in Helmand Province, which are very questionable because of the absence of Afghan participation in the reclaiming of neighborhoods.)
All of which is to say: If there is anything we know about news from the region, it's that we don't know very much. My policy is, take nothing at face value. I'm skeptical about all these reports, which is why I try to visit the war zones as often as I can. I try to base my judgments of progress or regress on hard evidence (like the decline in violent incidents that heralded the turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq's Anbar Province in the spring of 2007) that is backed by a plausible rationale (the local tribes decided they didn't like AQI's brand of sharia). On the flip side, it was very easy to discern, when I visited Afghanistan in late 2008 and spring of 2009, that the war was not going very well there.
So, I hope Hakimullah Mehsud's death presages the end of the Taliban threat in Pakistan. But I also hope the Pakistani Army continues its campaign against the terrorists and extends it, by going after those like the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, whom the Pakistanis supported in the past.