US Air Campaign in Pakistan Heats Up


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Mar 21, 2009
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US Air Campaign in Pakistan Heats Up

The US air campaign in Pakistan's tribal areas remains the cornerstone of the effort to root out and decapitate the senior leadership of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other allied terror groups, and to disrupt both al Qaeda's global and local operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As expected, in 2009 the US well exceeded the number of attacks in 2008, with 53 compared to 36. And with two strikes in the first four days of 2010, one can expect the intensity of the campaign this year to equal or exceed last year's pace.
Although 16 senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed since the air campaign heated up in 2008, the terror groups remain a force in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US has been compelled to surge forces in Afghanistan and revamp its strategy there, while the Pakistani military has been forced to launch military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. Despite some tactical victories by the Pakistani military in Pakistan, the Taliban and its allies are able to carry out suicide attacks and complex assaults on secure military and government targets with regularity.
Al Qaeda's external operations network, which is assigned to carrying out attacks outside Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been a prime target of US airstrikes; three external operations chiefs have been killed since May 2008.
The US air campaign highlights the Pakistani government’s inability to control its own territory and prevent it from becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of South Asian jihadi terror groups. The US is forced to conduct airstrikes in territories claimed by a nuclear power that is touted as an ally in the Long War.
The US has maintained the pressure on al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas since August 2008. The attack tempo has remained high relative to the number of attacks carried out from June 2004 through July 2008. Since the first recorded strike in June of 2004, which killed Taliban commander Nek Mohammed, until the end of 2009, there have been 99 US strikes inside Pakistan.
Beginning in August 2008, the US began stepping up strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda elements in the tribal agencies. There were 28 airstrikes in the tribal agencies between August and December 2008 – nearly three times the total number of airstrikes in the previous four years combined. There was one recorded strike in 2004, one in 2005, three in 2006, and five in 2007.
There was a 47 percent increase in attacks from 2008 to 2009. In 2009, the number of US strikes exceeded the prior five years combined; there were 46 recorded strikes in Pakistan from 2004-2008, compared to 53 strikes in 2009.
The lethality of Predator strikes inside the tribal agencies also increased slightly during 2009. Using low-end estimates of casualties (including Taliban, al Qaeda, and civilian), the airstrikes in 2009 resulted in 506 killed. In 2008, there were 317 deaths reported.
Another indicator of the increasing lethality of US airstrikes inside Pakistan is the slight rise in the average number of people killed per attack. In 2009, the average casualty rate was 9.65 killed per strike, compared to 8.81 in 2008.
Despite the sharp increase in both the frequency and total number of casualties resulting from Predator strikes since mid-2008, civilian casualties have remained relatively low. Naturally, it is difficult to determine the exact number of civilians killed in Predator strikes for many reasons - including intentional exaggeration by Taliban spokesmen, and vague accounts by Pakistani media sources which frequently report that a certain number of "people" were killed in a strike, but rarely offer a follow-up report identifying which victims were civilians and which were militants. However, it is possible to get a rough estimate of civilian casualties by adding up the number of civilians reported killed from the media accounts of each attack. According to this method, a total of 94 civilians were reported killed as a result of all strikes between 2006 and 2009.
Considering that drone strikes have resulted in 985 total casualties during that same time period, our numbers show that only 9.5 percent of the casualties reported have been identified as civilians. During 2009, only 8.5 percent of the attacks resulted in civilian casualties.
While our number is undoubtedly a low estimate, this extremely small percentage suggests that the accuracy and precision of these strikes have improved along with the increased pace of these strikes over the past few years.
As it has in the past, the US air campaign in Pakistan has continued to focus almost exclusively on the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan. The total number of strikes in North Waziristan has surpassed the total number of strikes in South Waziristan for the first time. Of the total of 101 strikes in Pakistan through 2010, 91 strikes, or 90 percent, have struck targets in North Waziristan (48 strikes) and South Waziristan (43 strikes). This trend has only increased after the US branched out and struck several targets outside those two tribal agencies during the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009. Since the April 1, 2009, strike in Arakzai, all of the subsequent strikes have been in North and South Waziristan.
The vast majority of the US attacks inside Pakistan have focused on areas under the control of five influential leaders.
Twenty-five percent of the attacks (25 attacks total) took place in the tribal areas run by the Haqqani Network. The tribal areas run by the Haqqani Network have become the primary focus of US operations. Ten of the last 15 strikes in 2009 took place in Haqqani Network territory.
The next hardest-hit group is the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in the Mehsud tribal areas. Twenty-one strikes (21 percent) took place there since the campaign began in 2004. Since Baitullah Mehsud's death during a strike in August of 2009, Waliur Rehman Mehsud has taken control of Baitullah's territories in South Waziristan, and Hakeemullah Mehsud has taken command of the overall Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which stretches into the tribal areas and the greater northwest. Attacks there tapered off dramatically with Baitullah's death and the onset of a Pakistani military operation in October.
The territories of South Waziristan Taliban chieftain Mullah Nazir were hit 20 times (20 percent). North Waziristan leaders Abu Kasha al Iraqi (13 strikes) and Hafiz Gul Bahadar (six strikes) round out the list of the top five targeted commanders. In all, nearly 79 percent of the strikes targeted the territories of these five tribal leaders.
Since January 2008, the US strikes in Pakistan have killed 15 senior al Qaeda leaders and one senior Taliban leader. Eight were killed in 2008 (Abdullah Azzam al Saudi, Abu Zubair al Masri, Abu Jihad al Masri, Khalid Habib, Abu Haris, Abu Khabab al Masri, Abu Sulayman Jazairi, and Abu Laith al Libi); and six were killed in 2009 (Zuhaib al Zahib, Saleh al Somali, Najmuddin Jalolov, Mustafa al Jaziri, Tahir Yuldashev, Baitullah Mehsud, Osama al Kini, and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan). In addition, 16 mid-level al Qaeda and Taliban commanders and operatives have been killed since January 2008.
Much of the media's reporting on the air campaign continues to focus on the deaths of senior al Qaeda leaders. But the campaign has more than one objective. Certainly the US is targeting al Qaeda's senior leadership in an effort to disrupt the overall command and control of the terror group, but the attacks are also aimed at hitting al Qaeda's external operations network and disrupting the Taliban's operations in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan.
First and foremost, the primary objective of the air campaign has been to disrupt al Qaeda’s external network and prevent the group from striking at the US and her allies. The campaign has targeted camps known to house foreigners as well as trainers and leaders for the network. Al Qaeda operatives known to have lived in the West and holding foreign passports have been killed in several Predator strikes. One such strike on an al Qaeda camp in South Waziristan on Aug. 30, 2008, killed two Canadian passport holders as they trained in the camp. Also, since May 14, 2008, the US has killed three of the leaders of al Qaeda’s external operations branch: Abu Sulayman Jazairi, Osama al Kini, and Saleh al Somali.
Another major objective has been to disrupt the Taliban and al Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan. The Taliban in Afghanistan receive significant support from within Pakistan. Taliban groups that are very active against Coalition forces in Afghanistan, such as the Haqqani Network, the Mehsud Taliban, and Mullah Nazir, have flourished in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas. The US has targeted both Taliban leaders and fighters during these strikes. The Haqqani Network, for instance, is the most heavily targeted group because it both conducts operations in Afghanistan and harbors al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Several large Taliban training camps that are known to train fighters for the Afghan front have been the targets of attack. For instance, a training camp in Kurram operated by an Afghan Taliban commander was hit on Feb. 16, 2009. Also, the US killed Zuhaib al Zahib, a senior commander in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army, during a strike in December 2009. The Lashkar al Zil is al Qaeda's military unit that partners with the Taliban on both sides of the border.
Along with targeting al Qaeda's external operations network and the Taliban's Afghan operations in Pakistan, the US has also targeted Pakistani Taliban commanders who threaten the stability of the Pakistani state. The US hunted Baitullah Mehsud for a year before killing him in a strike in early August of 2009. Several of Baitullah's deputies have also been killed this past year. The US has an interest in preventing nuclear Pakistan from becoming a failed state and also needs to keep its supply lines through Pakistan and into Afghanistan open. More than 70 percent of the US and NATO supplies travel through Pakistan's northwest.

The Long War Journal


Oct 17, 2009
Suspected U.S. drones kill 12 in Pakistan

Officials: Second strike hits locals retrieving bodies after first attack.

ISLAMABAD - Two suspected U.S. drone missile strikes killed at least 12 people in Pakistan's volatile northwest near the Afghan border on Wednesday, intelligence officials said.

The officials said a suspected drone fired two missiles at a house in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan in the first attack Wednesday, killing seven people.

The officials said a second strike occurred as locals were retrieving bodies from the rubble of the house, killing five people. The identities of those killed in the attacks were unknown.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The area were the suspected strikes took place is teeming with militants suspected in a suicide attack that killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.

The al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network is one of several militant groups that stage cross-border attacks against coalition troops from Pakistan's lawless North Waziristan tribal area. Wednesday's suspected attack was the third such attack in North Waziristan since the CIA bombing a week ago.

The Obama administration has pressed Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani network, but the government has resisted, saying it has its hands full battling other militants that are waging war against the state. In response, Washington has stepped up drone strikes in the country's militant-dominated tribal area near the Afghan border.

Wednesday's attack occurred in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, said the intelligence officials. The identities of the seven people killed were unknown.

U.S. officials rarely discuss the missile strikes, and although Pakistan's government publicly condemns them as violations of its sovereignty, many analysts believe the two countries have a secret deal allowing them.

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