June 22, 2011 | FDD’s Long War Journal

US Predators Strike the Haqqani Network in Kurram

June 22, 2011 | FDD’s Long War Journal

US Predators Strike the Haqqani Network in Kurram

US Predators targeted the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of Kurram today, killing 11 enemy fighters. The strike hit in an area run by a Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan commander who supports the Haqqani Network.

The remotely-piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired four missiles at two compounds and a vehicle in the Khardand area of Kurram.

“Eleven militants were killed,” a local Pakistani intelligence official said, according to Dawn. “Nine of them were Afghans and believed to be linked to the Haqqani group.”

No senior Haqqani Network, Taliban, or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed in the strike.

Today's strike took place in an area run by a Taliban commander known as Fazal Saeed, who is said to be “closely linked to the Haqqani Network,” Dawn reported.

Fazal's full name is Fazal Saeed Utezai [see LWJ report, The Pakistani Taliban's top leaders]. He is a deputy to Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, leads Taliban fighters in the Kurram tribal agency, and operates training camps used to train fighters to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. His forces have been behind some of the worst sectarian violence against the Shia tribes. In 2009, Fazal was one of 11 Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leaders placed on a list of wanted terrorists by the Pakistani government. Fazal has a $61,500 bounty on his head.

The US targeted one of Fazal's camps in Kurram in a March 12, 2009 Predator strike. Fourteen terrorists, including “foreigners,” were killed in the attack on a compound and training camp in the Barjo region. Pakistani officials use the term “foreigner” to describe al Qaeda members and other terrorists hailing from outside Pakistan.

The US has carried out two other strikes in Kurram. On Aug. 27, 2010, Predators attacked two vehicles in the Shahidano area and killed four terrorists. And on Feb. 16, 2009, the Predators killed 30 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in airstrikes that targeted a training camp in the Sarpal area of Kurram. The Sarpal camp was run by Bahram Khan Kochi, a commander of Taliban forces operating inside Afghanistan.

Kurram has become a safe haven for the Haqqani Network since the terror group, backed by the Pakistani military, brokered a peace deal between the besieged Shia tribes and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The Haqqanis want to use Kurram as an alternate route into Afghanistan. Siraj Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network who is a top al Qaeda and Taliban leader, and other Haqqani Network commanders have sought shelter in Kurram to avoid the US Predator strikes.

The Predator strikes, by the numbers

So far this year, the US has carried out 38 strikes in Pakistan, and is well off the pace of the 117 attacks that took place in 2010. In 2010, the US more than doubled the number of strikes that had occurred in 2009; by late August 2010, the US had exceeded 2009's strike total of 53 with a strike in Kurram. In 2008, the US carried out a total of 36 strikes inside Pakistan. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see LWJ Special Report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2011.]

In 2010 the strikes were concentrated almost exclusively in North Waziristan, where the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and a host of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups are based. All but 13 of the 117 strikes took place North Waziristan. Of the 13 strikes occurring outside of North Waziristan in 2010, seven were executed in South Waziristan, five were in Khyber, and one was in Kurram. This year, an increasing number of strikes are taking place in South Waziristan. So far in 2011, 25 of the 38 strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, 12 strikes have occurred in South Waziristan, and one more took place in Kurram.

Since Sept. 1, 2010, the US has conducted 99 strikes in Pakistan's tribal agencies. The bulk of those attacks have aimed at the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 81 strikes in the tribal agency. Many of the strikes have targeted cells run by the Islamic Jihad Group, which have been plotting to conduct Mumbai-styled terror assaults in Europe. A Sept. 8 strike killed an IJG commander known as Qureshi, who specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.

The US campaign in northwestern Pakistan has targeted top al Qaeda leaders, al Qaeda's external operations network, and Taliban leaders and fighters who threaten both the Afghan and Pakistani states as well as support al Qaeda's external operations. The campaign has been largely successful in focusing on terrorist targets and avoiding civilian casualties, as recently affirmed by the Pakistani military.

For a list of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in the US air campaign in Pakistan, see LWJ Special Report, Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2011.

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