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By Alex Shone, UK Defence Forum Research Associate in Residence
2010 was the year that saw the highest intensity of drone strikes, reaching a total of 120, over twice as many as 2009. According to the Long War Journal 18 high value al-Qaeda and Taliban targets were destroyed.
The Long War Journal has recorded drone activity as being heaviest in North and South Waziristan. Since 2004, 71% and 23% of all known strikes have been located in these regions respectively. Focus upon Waziristan pursues Mullar Nazir and Waliur Rehman based in the South while in the North efforts target the Haqqani Network, Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Abu Kasha al Iraqi.
Reporting on drone strikes remains chiefly the work of analysis of local press coverage. Figures continue to receive no official publication by the US Air Force or other official bodies. As such, they are only so reliable with a continued discrepancy being where drones conduct repeat strikes in close succession against targets previously hit.
The Long War Journal has reported nine drone strikes in January resulting in 46 suspected militant casualties.
1st January: The US launched the first three drone strikes of 2011, targeting Taliban, al-Qaeda and Haqqani Network fighters in North Waziristan.
The first strike occurred in the village of Mandi khel, firmly under the influence of the Haqqani Network. Four missiles were launched against a house and a compound killing seven suspected insurgents. Drones returned and fired upon those who went to pull people from the rubble of the first strike. It is reported that this strike killed four foreign fighters.
The second strike targeted a compound in the village, Ghoresti, killing four suspected insurgent fighters.
The third strike hit a vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan killing four suspected insurgents. This area is notorious as a hub for Al-Qaeda and various other terror groups.
Though no senior insurgent leaders were killed in these strikes, the second pass made by drones in the first strike indicates pursuit of a senior leader.
7th January: Five suspected militants were reportedly killed in North Waziristan in a barrage of US drone-launched missiles. The missiles targeted a vehicle as well as a house according to security officials.
The strikes took place in the village of Ghar Laley, 22 miles west of Miran Shah, which is the main town of North Waziristan. Subsequently the Taliban have surrounded the area and fears are that the final death toll from the strike may rise.
Details of any neutralised high-value targets have yet to be released.
12th January: US Predators strike in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled, the al Qaeda haven of North Waziristan, killing four "foreigners", a term used to describe Arab al Qaeda or Central Asian terrorists.
The strike took place in the village of Hyderkhel in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The drones "fired two missiles at a militant compound" in the village, a Pakistani intelligence official told AFP. No senior Al Qaeda, Taliban, or other terrorist leaders have been reported killed in today's strike.
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda's external operations network. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area. Mir Ali is a known hub for Al Qaeda's military and external operations councils.
18th January: Officials have said a suspected US missile strike has killed four alleged militants in Pakistan's northwest, near the Afghan border. The officials said three missiles struck a militants' compound on 18 January in the town of Datta Khel in the North Waziristan tribal region. Datta Khel is known to be dominated by fighters from a militant group headed by Hafiz Gul Baradar, which mostly focus attacks against US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. http://www.arynews.tv/english/index.asp
23rd January: US Predators launched three airstrikes in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, killing 13 suspected militants in an area known to host al-Qaeda's top leaders.
The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to top al-Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.
Datta Khel serves as a command and control centre for al-Qaeda's top leaders and is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al-Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadist groups are also based in the area.
This latest round of air strikes brings the total for this month to nine.