CIA drone strikes Militant Seminary in Pakistan Proper, Killing 6 (Ross)

Alice K. Ross writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

A CIA drone strike hit a religious school in Hangu, Pakistan [on Thursday], killing at least six and injuring several more. It is believed to be the first time a strike has taken place in the ‘settled’ areas beyond Pakistan’s tribal regions.

The Bureau has logged reports of over 370 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Almost every one of these has taken place in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), the semi-autonomous mountainous region bordering Afghanistan where large numbers of militant groups shelter alongside a civilian population.

According to the Bureau’s research, three drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a ‘buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the ‘settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007.

Today’s strike hit a madrassa (religious school) in a village named Tal near the town of Hangu, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), close to FATA. Residents described seeing drones circling in the area for days beforehand.

The madrassa was reportedly a mud building of 15 rooms though the missiles reportedly only hit one room. Around 80 students escaped unharmed, the Washington Post reported. The building was reportedly used by refugees. However a Haqqani source told AFP it was also ‘a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones.’

Abdullah Khan of the Conflict Monitoring Center, a Pakistani research body, pointed out that the attack was part of a series of strikes this year targeting the Haqqani Network, a militant group that frequently attacks US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In September, an attack in North Waziristan killed Sangeen Zadran, a commander who was described as ‘running the show’, who was also shadow governor of Paktika province in Afghanistan.

Khan added: ‘This can be classed as one of the most significant drone attacks this year. Ahmad Jan was in the shadow government of Paktika province – he headed the shadow finance ministry. These are big names in Afghanistan; his killing will have impact.’

Jan was said to have been in his 60s. He was said to be a senior Haqqani commander, its second-in-command according to one report, and its spiritual leader. He was not the only alleged militant killed – as many as five others, all reportedly senior Haqqani commanders, died in the attack.

The attack came the day after prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told parliament the US had assured Pakistan it would suspend drone attacks while the Pakistani government was in peace talks with the Taliban. The Pakistani government is currently attempting to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Mansur Mahsud of the FATA Research Center told the Bureau: ‘Yesterday Nawaz Sharif’s foreign minister gave a statement saying it would not carry out drone strikes during talks between militants and the government, and the very next day a drone strike took place in the settled area. It will increase tension and anger in Pakistan against America.’

Khan added that the strike would raise fears of drones striking targets even further afield. ‘If the Pakistani government doesn’t come up with some reaction to this, the next target will be Quetta, the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban,’ he said. ‘They have said they think Mullah Omar [leader of the Afghan Taliban] is there.’

Additional reporting by Jack Serle

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Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

6 Responses

  1. Khan added: ‘This can be classed as one of the most significant drone attacks this year. Ahmad Jan was in the shadow government of Paktika province – he headed the shadow finance ministry. These are big names in Afghanistan; his killing will have impact.’

    Jan was said to have been in his 60s. He was said to be a senior Haqqani commander, its second-in-command according to one report, and its spiritual leader. He was not the only alleged militant killed – as many as five others, all reportedly senior Haqqani commanders, died in the attack.

    Good news.

    Looks to me like they snuck in one last, really important strike before a cessation. John Kerry made a cryptic comment a couple of weeks ago about strikes in Pakistan coming to and end very soon.

      • Because of Kerry’s comment, the statement of the Pakistani official about a cessation, and the significance of the strike. The targets that were hit are a very big deal indeed, perhaps the most important in years. They decapitated the operational command of the Haqqanni network. If this was anything less, it would be easy to view as just a continuation of business as usual.

    • “Good news.”

      Very good news indeed, that as many as six Haqqani commanders appear to have been killed in the strike. I would not place much credibility in any “cryptic comment” made by John Kerry, however, or that drone strikes might be coming to an end in Pakistan. I think the strikes will continue as long as anti-US militants in the region continue to justify them.

      • John Kerry has a long history of gaffes, and they are all of the same character: he says things that are true when it might be wiser for him to say nothing. That is exactly what his premature statement looks like, in light of the Pakistani official’s statement. It becomes increasingly clear, when you discuss Kerry, that you have a great deal of ginned-up hostility left over from the 2004 campaign.

        I think the strikes will continue as long as anti-US militants in the region continue to justify them.

        I think there is a point of diminishing returns in this campaign – when targets being struck are becoming less and less significant, while the diplomatic damage (which can served to undermine local efforts against these militants) outweighs them.

        • John Kerry does have a long history of gaffes, and Pakistani officials are always making some noise about “ending drone strikes.” I don’t place much credibility in either of them, Kerry or Pakistani officials.

          When the targets’ significance reaches a point where they are not important enough to offset any bilateral damage that might ensue, the drone strikes will cease. That is a given. but I would not bet that point has been been reached yet.

          Your comment suggesting that I “have a great deal of ginned-up hostility left over from the 2004 campaign” does not deserve a response, as you have no idea what my position was in 2004. I view Kerry as one of our dimmer diplomatic bulbs based on his record. It has nothing to do with 2004. You, however, seem to be borrowing a page from Mr. McPhee’s playbook in your attempt to ascribe to me thoughts and actions that lie only in your imagination.

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