At least 23 militants were killed in a US drone strike on Wednesday which targeted a compound belonging to a North Waziristan-based militant group which, in turn, threatened to step up its fight against American troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The attack comes two days after US missiles killed around 19 militants in South Waziristan following the reported killing of al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri last Saturday.
A US pilot-less aircraft fired five missiles at the compound atop a hill in the Zoey Naray area, in Shawal tehsil, which has been described by local residents as a major training centre in North Waziristan Agency.
The Haqqani Network – the deadliest of all Taliban groups – and foreign militant networks are also known to operate in the remote mountains of Shawal, enveloped in thick forest, according to AFP.
“At least 23 militants were killed in the attack, and the compound was completely destroyed,” a source told The Express Tribune. Sources said it was not clear whether or not foreigners were killed in the attack.
The targeted compound was reportedly being used by militants loyal to Waziri Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar. One of Monday’s three drone strikes also targeted the Gul Bahadur group in the Dray Nashtar area of South Waziristan, which is very close to Shawal.
An affiliate of the Gul Bahadur group, meanwhile, threatened to speed up its fight against the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan in response to intensified US drone attacks strikes on its territory.
“Because the United States is launching these strikes we will send more fighters to Afghanistan and step up our operations against US forces,” Maulvi Younus, one of Maulvi Nazir’s senior commanders, told Reuters. “We have no other option. We have no weapons which shoot them (drone aircraft) down, so we will fight the United States in Afghanistan.”
Based in South Waziristan, Maulvi Nazir’s fighters are allied with the Gul Bahadur group. Maulvi Nazir’s group is a rival of Hakeemullah Mehsud’s Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which is also headquartered in South Waziristan.
The Maulvi Nazir group had struck a deal with Pakistani government in 2007 under which they would not harbour anti-government militants in exchange for not being targeted when the army started mounting offensives in the tribal regions.
Commander Younus called on the Pakistani government to end the drone strikes, but said his group had no intention of breaking the pact. He declined to say how many fighters Nazir has at his disposal but Pakistani intelligence officials put the figure at about 1,200.
“We have lots of mujahideen. It is not a problem. If drone strikes continue we believe many tribesmen will join us because they (drone strikes) are killing ordinary people,” said Qari Yousaf, another close aide to Nazir.
Additional input from wires
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2011.