PESHAWAR/MIRAMSHAH: Hours after an unmanned aircraft attack killed five militants, including the brother of a high-ranking Pakistani Taliban commander in Azam Warsak, a second US drone strike on Thursday killed another six militants in Hishokhel village, officials said.
The first attack occurred 20 kilometres west of Wana in South Waziristan, while the second was carried out some 30 kilometres east of Miramshah in North Waziristan.
Tribal sources told The Express Tribune that the first attack took place in Bermal tehsil of South Waziristan, when a US drone fired two missiles on a moving vehicle at around 10:00 am.
Militants belonging to the Mullah Nazir group were onboard the vehicle. Three of the five deceased were identified as Hazrat Umar, Khan Mohammad and Ashfaq, while the identities of the other two could not be ascertained.
“Nazir’s younger brother Omar Wazir has been killed, it has been confirmed,” a security official told AFP. Another intelligence official also confirmed his death.
Residents and security officials in the region described the 27-year-old as the operational head for the Nazir group, and a close aide of his brother.
Security officials said another close relative of Nazir’s was also among the dead. His exact relation was not immediately clear.
The second drone strike took place in the Mir Ali subdivision of North Waziristan at around 7:30 pm, when a US drone fired four missiles targeting a moving vehicle in Essakhel village. However, it was not immediately clear which militant group the six deceased belonged to.
Shift in CIA drone strategy?
The latest string of recent US drone strikes which has killed yet another high ranking militant, or High Value Target (HVT) as they are known in military jargon, raise questions over whether the CIA has changed its strategy in its covert Pakistan drone war.
In an exclusive to The Express Tribune, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has broken down a probable shift in US drone-policy since former US General David Petraeus took charge at the Central Intelligence Agency on September 6.
Since then, the Bureau has recorded ten CIA drone strikes, nine in Pakistan and one in Yemen. The revealing element of these strikes is that six of them have killed senior militants.
In the early years of the drone campaign under President George W. Bush, almost all attacks were against HVTs viewed as a strategic threat to US interests. But over the years those rules were relaxed, first by Bush and then by President Barack Obama. However, the trend now seems to be reverting back to targeting HVTs.
Thursday’s strike that reportedly killed the brother of key militant commander Maulvi Nazir, his deputy commander, is just the latest in a string of attacks where reports name senior militants.
However, Dr Micah Zenko, a drone expert with the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, urges caution: ‘There’s been no real indication so far that there’s been a shift in strategy,’ he told the Bureau. ‘With
almost 300 strikes one would expect statistical blips like this.’
At least 16 senior militants have been reported killed by the CIA since August.
The killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces on May 2 was reported to have resulted in a ‘library’ of intelligence material. Three days after his death, US drone strikes resumed in Yemen after a nine-year break, when a Reaper tried to kill Anwar al Awlaki. Within a month, senior al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri was killed by CIA drones in Pakistan. Senior US officials began talking up the prospect of delivering a knockout blow to al Qaeda in Pakistan and elsewhere.
When the Bureau published its full database of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan on August 10, it identified and named 128 militants killed in attacks since 2004. Since then, at least fifteen new names have been added to that list, most of them HVTs from al Qaeda, the Haqqani network and the Pakistan Taliban. A further four named militants were killed by the CIA in Yemen on September 30, including US citizens Anwar al Awlaki and Samir Khan. The CIA declined to comment.
(Read: Dissent on drones)
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2011.