The Shawal Valley is a remote place, even by the standards of Pakistan's Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. Located along the Shawal River between steep mountain walls just north of the border between South and North Waziristan, it is the last redoubt of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S. invasion. Numerous Pakistani military offensives in the lawless region, most recently in June 2014, have failed to dislodge them, although their ranks have been decimated, a handful of targets at a time, by hundreds of CIA drone strikes.
On Jan. 19, one such strike involving four remote-controlled missiles blew up a compound that the CIA had designated as an al-Qaeda safe house, killing seven suspected militants and injuring four. According to an anonymous Pakistani official who spoke to NBC News shortly after the attack, those killed included "non-Pakistani foreign fighters." It wasn't until April 23 that the White House announced that one of those foreign fighters was none other than the American face of al-Qaeda: Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a.k.a. Azzam al-Amriki or Azzam the American. More »