The US has struck yet again inside Pakistan. The latest attack was aimed at a target in the lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.
An unmanned Predator strike aircraft fired a Hellfire missile at a vehicle in a bazaar in the town of Gangi Khel near Wana. Four Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are thought to have been killed in the strike and four civilians are said to have been wounded, Geo News reported. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed at this time.
The town of Gangi Khel is located in the tribal areas commanded by Mullah Nazir, a Taliban chieftain and former rival and now ally of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. The US targeted Nazir and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in a strike near Wana on Nov. 7. Nazir was wounded in the attack. Yuldashev's status is still unknown, but it is believed he survived the attack.
The US targeted the Taliban in Gangi Khel at least one other time this year. A Jan. 23 Predator attack hit a Taliban compound in the town. Ten al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were reported killed in that attack.
The Pakistani government officially protests the Predator strikes but behind the scenes the government allows the attacks and the military passes some intelligence to US intelligence to target Taliban leaders.
Nazir is one of three senior Taliban leaders in new alliance against the West
Nazir joined forces with senior Taliban leaders Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Baitullah Mehsud to form the Council of United Mujahideen. In February of this year, the three leaders swore fealty to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the overall Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and threatened to strike at the US and other countries.
The three leaders had pamphlets distributed throughout North and South Waziristan to announce the formation of the Council of United Mujahideen. The Taliban leaders have “united according to the wishes of Mujahideen leaders like Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”
The pamphlets also said the Taliban alliance “supported Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden’s struggle” against the administrations of US President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The new alliance further stated it was waging war “in an organized manner’” to “stop the infidels from carrying out acts of barbarism against innocent people” just as Omar and bin Laden were waging war against Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US.
Nazir has close ties to al Qaeda and maintains safe houses and training camps for the terror group. Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda's former weapons of mass destruction chief, was killed in a strike in Nazir's territory last summer.
Nazir recently granted an interview to As Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda arm, where he blamed Pakistan for the Predator strikes and threatened to overrun the capital of Islamabad.
"All these attacks that have happened and are still happening are the work of Pakistan," Nazir said. "The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen." Last December, Nazir began threatening the Pakistani government if the strikes did not stop.
Background on US strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban networks in northwestern Pakistan
US 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 US 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 US has also targeted al Qaeda-linked Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan, particularly the notorious Haqqani Network.
As of last summer, 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, US 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 for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other senior al Qaeda leaders.
There were 36 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan during 2008, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Twenty-nine of those attacks took place after Aug. 31. There were only 10 recorded strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined.
During 2008, the US strikes inside Pakistan's tribal areas killed five senior al Qaeda leaders. All of the leaders were involved in supporting al Qaeda's external operations directed at the West.
Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan in January 2008.
Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda’s external operations chief, was killed in a strike in Bajaur in March 2008.
Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda's weapons of mass destruction chief, and several senior members of his staff were killed in a strike in South Waziristan in July 2008.
Khalid Habib, the leader of al Qaeda's paramilitary Shadow Army, was killed in a region controlled by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan in October 2008.
Abu Jihad al Masri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and member of al Qaeda's top council, was also killed in North Waziristan in October 2008.
In 2009, US strikes have killed two senior, long-time al Qaeda leaders. Osama al Kini and his senior aide, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, were killed in a New Year's Day strike in South Waziristan. Kini was al Qaeda operations chief in Pakistan. Both men were behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others.
US attacks inside Pakistan during 2009:
• US Predator kills four in South Waziristan strike
• US strikes Haqqani Network in North Waziristan
April 4, 2009
• US launches first strike in Arakzai tribal agency
April 1, 2009
• Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safe house in North Waziristan
March 26, 2009
• US airstrike kills 8 in Baitullah Mehsud's hometown
March 25, 2009
• US launches second strike outside of Pakistan's tribal areas
March 15, 2009
• US missile strike in Kurram agency kills 14
March 12, 2009
• US airstrike kills 8 in South Waziristan
March 1, 2009
• US airstrike in Pakistan's Kurram tribal agency kills 30
Feb. 16, 2009
• US Predator strike in South Waziristan kills 25
Feb. 14, 2009
• US strikes al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan
Jan. 23, 2009
• US hits South Waziristan in second strike
Jan. 2, 2009
• US kills 4 al Qaeda operatives in South Waziristan strike
Jan. 1, 2009
For a summary of US strikes inside Pakistan in 2008, see US strikes in 2 villages in South Waziristan.