August 20, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Al Qaeda safe house targeted in South Waziristan strike

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS' Frontline. Click to view.

An attack on an al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of South Waziristan killed at least eight, including foreign terrorists, security officials in Pakistan told AFP.

Reports indicate two missiles struck home that served as “a known hideout for militants” in the town of Wana. The home was owned by a tribesman named Haji Yaqub. “Arabs often stayed with him,” a resident in Wana told AFP. Yaqub was reported wounded in the strike. There have been no reports of senior al Qaeda leaders killed in the attack.

The Pakistani military was unable to confirm the details of the attack. “What report we have received is that there is an explosion in a house in Wana,” Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said. “There are also casualties, but we do not have any confirmation. It is also not confirmed whether it was a missile.”

The Pakistani military has a presence on the outskirts of South Waziristan. The military withdrew from bases in South Waziristan after taking heavy casualties and having forts overrun in late 2007 and early 2008.

South Waziristan is a known safe haven for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terrorist movements. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, is based in South Waziristan. Baitullah has conducted a vicious suicide campaign throughout Pakistan and an effective military campaign in the tribal areas.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Last year, 29 camps were reported to be in operation in North and South Waziristan.

Targeting al Qaeda's safe havens

This year's attack tempo on Taliban and al Qaeda havens in Pakistan is higher than previous years. Ten camps and safe houses were confirmed to have been targeted by the US military in 2006 and 2007. The Wana attack is the seventh confirmed US strike on al Qaeda and Taliban safe houses and camps in Pakistan this year.

Three senior al Qaeda commanders have been killed in this year's strikes.

The US military killed Abu Khabab al Masri during a targeted strike on an al Qaeda safe house in the village of Zeralita in the Azam Warsak region of South Waziristan on July 28. Khabab was al Qaeda's chief bomb maker and headed its chemical and biological weapons programs.

On May 14, a US strike killed Abu Sulayman Jazairi, in an airstrike against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in the town of Damadola in Pakistan' s Bajaur tribal agency along with 13 associates. Jazairi was a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda' s central organization who directed the group' s external operations. He is described as a senior trainer, an explosives expert, and an operational commander tasked with planning attacks on the West.

Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a US strike inside the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan in late January. Al Libi was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and served as a chief spokesman for al Qaeda. Laith also commanded al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani sources have put out false reports of the death of three senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders this summer. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, is rumored to have been killed in the South Waziristan strike that killed Khabab. Zawahiri appeared on a videotape a week later, urging Pakistanis to fight the government.

The Pakistani military speculated that Faqir Mohammed, the Taliban emir, or leader in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was killed during fighting against Pakistani forces in the tribal agency on August 15. Faqir later spoke to a Pakistani television station.

Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, was also reported killed during the heavy fighting in Bajaur last week. Al Qaeda never confirmed Yazid's death, and the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies never presented evidence he was killed.

While the strikes have disrupted al Qaeda's senior leadership, they have done little to disrupt the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan.