MIRANSHAH: US drone aircraft struck twice in Pakistan’s unruly tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 15 suspected militants, including two senior commanders of the Pakistani Taliban, security and intelligence officials said.
In the first strike, Pakistani warlord Maulvi Nazir’s loyalists, two of them commanders, were attacked in the remote Drey Nishtar area of South Waziristan along the Afghan border, part of the semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt that Washington considers a global hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. A total of eight suspected militants were killed in the attack.
Maulvi Nazir, one of the most influential militant leaders in the region, leads his own faction of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
“The target of the attack was fighters of commander Maulvi Nazir. A total of eight fighters were killed in this attack,” one Pakistani official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Security officials said US drones fired up to four missiles into a vehicle travelling through the far-flung and mountainous area.
“Informers told us that two senior commanders of Maulvi Nazir were among the dead. Both commanders, Amir Hamza and Shamsullah, were considered important for Nazir,” the official added.
Seven suspected militants were killed in the second attack later in the day, when a drone fired missiles at a vehicle in the Sara Khawra area, which straddles the border between North Waziristan and South Waziristan.
US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks in late 2010 showed that Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders privately supported US drone attacks, despite public condemnation in a country where the US alliance is hugely unpopular.
President Barack Obama in January confirmed for the first time that US drones target militants on Pakistani soil, but American officials do not discuss details of the covert programme.
But the attacks fuel anti-American resentment in Pakistan, whose relations with the US nosedived over the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May and air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
The New America Foundation think-tank in Washington says drone strikes have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in Pakistan in the past eight years.
Islamabad is now reviewing its US alliance in the wake of the November deaths and has kept its Afghan border closed to Nato supply convoys since then.
It ordered US personnel to leave the Shamsi air base in southwestern Pakistan, widely believed to have been a hub for the CIA drone programme, and is thought likely to impose taxes on convoys if it reopens the Afghan border.
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. Tuesday’s attack was the ninth reported so far this year.