**UPDATE BELOW REGARDING ZAWAHIRI NEWS**
It’s kinda strange that Pakistan attacks a Taliban supported terrorist training camp when they have been bending over backwards to support the Taliban over Waziristan. They have signed agreements with the Taliban giving them control over their own territory but all of a sudden they take out a whole camp:
Pakistani army helicopters killed around 80 suspected militants on Monday in a dawn attack on a religious school run by a pro-Taliban commander wanted for harboring al Qeda fighters, a military spokesman said.
The army said the religious school or madrasa in Chenagai, 10 km (six miles) north of Khar, the main town in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, was being used as a militant training camp.
The strike killed almost everyone present in the madrasa, although at least three wounded were taken to hospital in Khar.
“The compound has been destroyed,” Major-General Shaukat Sultan told Reuters.
“According to our local sources, up to 80 deaths have been confirmed,” he said. No ground troops were sent in to mop up.
Residents said they had seen three or four army helicopters flying over Chenagai at around 5 a.m.
Here is a picture of the region: (h/t The Fourth Rail)(click to enlarge)
Bill Roggio from The Fourth Rail believes this may have been a US led operation:
While the Pakistanis are taking credit for this strike, the question arises as to whether this may have been conducted by Task Force 145, the U.S. special operations terrorist hunter-killer teams. Task Force 145 was responsible for the April raid in Danda Saidgai on the al-Qaeda’s training camp for Osama bin Laden’s Black Guard, his elite praetorian guard. Pakistan initially took credit for the Danda Saidgai strikes, but the Washington Post later revealed this was indeed a U.S. mission. Dawn notes the raid occurred “at around 5:00 am,” which means it was conducted in the dark. Pakistani helicopter pilots would need night training in flight and targeting.
This attack comes on the heels of Pakistan releasing 9 Al-Qaeda terrorists:
Pakistani authorities have released nine tribesmen held for more than a year on suspicion of links with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, a tribal elder and residents said yesterday.
The men, who included relatives of fugitive militant leader Faqir Mohammed, were captured by Pakistani security agencies in May 2005 in the northwestern Bajur tribal region and were accused by the government of sheltering foreign militants.
The men were freed Saturday “as a gesture of good will” following a meeting between government officials and elders from Bajur, the head of a council of tribal elders, Malik Abul Aziz, said.
Which caused the Taliban in Pakistan to hail Osama as a hero:
Describing as Osama bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar as “heroes of the Islamic world”, a meeting of pro-Taleban tribal militants and elders in Pakistan have vowed to fight the “enemies of peace” in Bajaur Agency.
A â€˜jirga’ (tribal council) of the Mamoond tribe and local pro-Taleban militants in the Umree area of Mamoond tehsil of Khar district announced that tribal people would protect Pakistan’s borders.
The announcement comes days after the political administration of Bajaur Agency released nine suspected Al Qaeda militants, triggering rumours that a North Waziristan-like peace accord was also likely in Bajaur, which overlooks Afghanistan’s Kunar province where Bin Laden and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are suspected to be hiding.
So what the hell is going on? Is Pakistan ceding more territory over to the Taliban or are they now attacking them?
Did the US attack this camp, as well they should have, and now Pakistan is taking credit for it to make up for their nonsensical appeasement of a terrorist supporting group?
UPDATE 10/30/06 1110hrs PST
ABC news has learned that it was indeed a US strike and they had a specific target, Ayman al Zawahiri:
Ayman al Zawahiri was the target of a Predator missile attack this morning on a religious school in Pakistan, according to Pakistani intelligence sources.
ABC News has learned the raid was launched after U.S. intelligence received tips and examined Predator reconnaissance indicating that al Qaeda’s No. 2 man may have been staying at the school, which is located in the Bajaur region near the village that is thought to be al Qaeda’s winter headquarters.
Despite earlier reports that the missiles had been launched by Pakistani military helicopters, Pakistani intelligence sources now tell ABC News that the missiles were fired from a U.S. Predator drone plane.
Between two and five senior al Qaeda militants were killed in the attack, including the mastermind of the airliners plot in the U.K., according to Pakistani intelligence sources.
No word yet on whether or not Zawahiri was killed in the raid, but one Pakistani intelligence source did express doubt that Zawahiri would have been staying in a madrassa, which is an obvious target for strikes against militants. That source, however, did express confidence that Pakistani intelligence is closing in on Zawahiri’s location.
One of the clerics who is believed to have been killed today, Maulana Liaquat, was one of the two main local leaders believed to be protecting Zawahiri.
Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News they believe they have “boxed” Zawahiri in a 40-square-mile area between the Khalozai Valley in Bajaur and the village of Pashat in Kunar, Afghanistan. They hope to capture or kill him in the next few months.
Now this is some good news. Hopefully Zawahiri is 6 feet under right now, but even if not, the fact that we are getting closer is just awesome news.
But I have a question. Why isn’t the headline:
Mastermind of U.K. Airliners Plot Killed by U.S. Predator Missile
being broadcast all over the world?
Care to take a guess?
Instead ABC makes a point to report that it was a school. You know, the evil US bombed a school…..of course Religous school = terrorist hide out….but why report the facts.
UPDATE II 2040hrs PST
The Counterterrorism Blog has an update:
I just spoke with a military intelligence source who confirmed that the Bajur airstrike was conducted by a U.S. Predator, adding that helicopters were also involved. The strike occurred around dawn, as people in the camp were preparing for their morning prayers. My source is skeptical of speculation that Zawahiri may have been killed in the strike, saying that Zawahiri sightings are a dime a dozen. He says it’s possible that Matiur Rehman was killed, but is also skeptical of that.
The strike came just as the Bajur accords were supposed to take place. Officials within the Pakistani government were supposedly worried when early reports surfaced that Faqir Mohammed may have been killed. Faqir Mohammed is a Taliban leader in the region who would have been a major signatory to the accords: if he were killed, the Pakistanis wouldn’t know who could enter into the accords with them (or, to put it cynically, with Faqir Mohammed dead they wouldn’t know who they were supposed to surrender to). However, Mohammed survived. He apparently felt so confident in his safety that he gave an interview to NBC News at the scene near the blasted school, and also attended — and spoke at — the funeral for the 80 who died in the strike.
At this point, the Bajur Accords are on hold. While we will probably see some payback from al-Qaeda and the Taliban, my source noted that there’s not a whole lot more they can do: these groups tried to kill Musharraf less than a month ago, and are already carrying out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
Doesn’t look good. Missed Zawahiri and now Faqir…..