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US drones on a mission in Pak: Hunt the Haqqanis

Last updated on: September 16, 2010 12:50 IST

US drones on a mission in Pak: Hunt the Haqqanis

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Apparently frustrated over Pakistan military's inaction against the dreaded Haqqani network, the United States has unleashed a wave of drone attacks killing dozens of militants in North Waziristan, a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, this month.

Since September 2, there have been 13 strikes by unmanned spy planes in North Waziristan the highest number in a month since the US began using drones to hit targets in Pakistan in 2004, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The number of drone strikes this year has already crossed 70, the highest figure for a single year.

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Image: A US drone in action over North Waziristan
Photographs: Reuters
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US gameplan in Pak's northwest

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There were two attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday that killed 32 militants, including Commander Saifullah, a cousin of Sirajuddin, a son of Jalaluddin Haqqani.

The US is hoping to downgrade the operational capabilities of the Haqqani group, which it considers the most lethal militant outfit in Afghanistan.

Military sources were quoted by the Dawn as saying that an operation in North Waziristan had been delayed because the Pakistan Army is preoccupied with fighting militancy in other tribal areas and flood relief efforts.

This window was fully exploited by the Haqqani group to intensify its activities, defence analysts said.


Image: Militants belonging to the Haqqani network at an undisclosed location

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Few takers in Washington for Pak excuses

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"The Americans want to check that freedom of space available to the Haqqanis through intensified drone attacks," a source said.

The daily reported that there were "few takers for the Pakistani explanation" about the delay in launching an operation in North Waziristan and many described the delay as tactical.

Pakistan had in June initiated efforts to secure a place for the Haqqani group in post-war Afghanistan by working out a rapprochement between the network and the Hamid Karzai government.

The US opposition to the initiative halted the move.


Image: A drone undergoes maintainence procedure at a US base in Afghanistan

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Al Qaeda too is on the strike radar

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Sources said Pakistan would make fresh moves to discuss peace with the Haqqanis, in the context of the overall reconciliation plan, during Afghan President Hamid Karzai's current visit to Pakistan.

Karzai arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday on a two-day visit.

The pattern of the drone attacks this month showed that the primary target was the Haqqani network, though its host commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar and foreign militants of Al Qaeda have also been targeted.

The drone strikes, this month, have predominantly been in Miranshah sub-division, where the Haqqani network's headquarters are based and where the group carries out its financial dealings, acquisition of weapons and strategic planning.


Image: Villagers pick up rocket fragments after a drone strike

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US pursuing the hammer and anvil approach

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Five of the attacks occurred in Datta Khel, which is home to Gul Bahadar's Uthmanzai Wazir clan. Dandey Darpa Khel, the scene of several drone attacks, is where members of Jalaluddin Haqqani's family live.

Gul Bahadar, who leads the other major militant group in North Waziristan, provides the Haqqanis the tribal support they lack and gives them passage to the border.

The US, while targeting the Haqqanis, is pursuing the "hammer and anvil approach".

Alongside the spike in drone attacks, US Special Forces have launched an intense operation against the group in eastern Afghanistan, killing a number of its commanders.


Image: A US drone returns to base after a routine sortie

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Why the US feels encouraged to use drone more often

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The Haqqani network has been the focus of US action for the past two years. After the December 2009 suicide attack on a CIA forward base in Khost, the network again came under renewed focus.

In this unprecedented intense bombardment by drones, Pakistani military officials see a shift in US policy in Afghanistan from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism.

They said the US, notwithstanding international denunciation of drone attacks, feels encouraged because the strikes have killed second and third tier leaders of militant groups.

More than 1,200 militants have been killed in over 130 drone strikes since August 2008.

Those killed include Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, Al Qaeda's no 3 Abu Mustafa al-Yazeed and some other top operatives of the terror group.


Image: File photo of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud

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