MIRANSHAH, Pakistan: A US drone strike targeting a Pakistani Taliban compound killed eleven insurgents in the country’s restive northwestern tribal region near the border with Afghanistan.
The attack came in North Waziristan, where for the past month the Pakistani military has been fighting to wipe out longstanding bases of Taliban and other militants. The drone fired eight missiles on the compound around 2:00am (2100 GMT) on Saturday killing eleven members of the Punjabi faction of the Pakistani Taliban.
The official said the dead included two “important” commanders of the Pakistani Taliban, but he refused to reveal their identities. An official had earlier given a lower death toll of eight militants dead. The strike took place in the Mada Khel suburb of Data Khel, a town that lies around 22 miles (36 kilometres) west of North Waziristan’s capital Miranshah.
Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas on the Afghan border have for years been a hideout for Islamist militants of all stripes – including Al-Qaeda and the homegrown Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as well as foreign fighters such as Uzbeks and Uighurs. Washington pressed Islamabad for years to take action to wipe out sanctuaries in North Waziristan, which militants have used to launch attacks on NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Jets and artillery began hitting rebel targets in mid-June to try to regain full control of the district and ground forces moved in on June 30. US drone strikes have picked up since the military offensive in Waziristan after a near six month hiatus. Since 12 June at least four drone strikes have been reported in the tribal areas. The assault by Pakistan’s military was launched after a dramatic attack by militants on Karachi airport which killed dozens of people and marked the end of a faltering peace process with the Pakistani Taliban.
More than 400 militants and 25 soldiers have been killed in the assault so far, according to the military, though the area is off-limits to journalists, making it impossible to verify the number and identity the dead independently. Pakistan routinely protests against US drone strikes, which have been targeting militants in the tribal areas since 2004, saying they are a violation of sovereignty and counterproductive in the fight against terror. Military officials have also strongly denied suggestions that there has been collusion with the US on drone strikes.
More than 800,000 people have been forced to flee from North Waziristan by the assault, with most ending up in the nearby town of Bannu. There have been fears that many top militants also fled, including fighters from the feared Haqqani network which is blamed for numerous bloody attacks in Afghanistan.