MIRANSHAH: Two US drone strikes struck suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal badlands on Thursday, killing at least 13 fighters in North Waziristan near the Afghan border, officials said.
The aircraft fired missiles hours apart on separate targets in what is considered the premier bastion of Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan as the government in Islamabad welcomed the Afghan and Iranian leaders for a summit.
Five militants were killed in the first attack that destroyed a compound in Spalga town near Miranshah and at least eight died in the second attack on a vehicle near the town of Mir Ali, about 25 kilometres to the east.
“The death toll may rise,” a Pakistani security official warned AFP after the second strike targeted militants travelling in a double cabin pick-up.
“At least eight militants have been killed in the second strike,” he said, describing them all as “foreigners”.
Another security official in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, put the death toll at 12, saying they were all Uzbek Islamist fighters.
“The vehicle caught fire and the dead bodies are badly mutilated,” he added.
The United States says Pakistan’s tribal belt provides sanctuary to Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, al Qaeda groups plotting attacks on the West, and Pakistani Taliban who routinely bomb Pakistan and other foreign fighters.
Those killed in the first attack were loyalists of Badar Mansoor and the Haqqani network, loyal to the Afghan Taliban whose leaders are understood to be based in North Waziristan, one of the Pakistani officials said.
Last Thursday, officials said Mansoor, described as the “de facto leader of al Qaeda in Pakistan” was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan.
Mansoor was considered one of America’s main targets in the country, wanted for bomb attacks on the minority Ahmadi sect that killed nearly 100 people in May 2010 and the chief link between al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
On Thursday, Pakistan hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a regional summit at a key juncture in peace efforts with the Taliban.
President Barack Obama last month confirmed for the first time that US drones target Taliban and al Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil, but American officials do not discuss details of the covert programme.
According to an AFP tally, 45 US missile strikes were reported in Pakistan’s tribal belt in 2009, the year Obama took office, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.