In a first strike since the reopening of Nato transit routes by Pakistan, US pilot-less aircraft hit targets in the North Waziristan tribal agency on Friday, killing several suspected militants.
The latest attack is in clear defiance of a Pakistani parliamentary resolution which called for an end to drone strikes and a public apology from US for the unblocking of the ground lines of communication for Nato troops.
Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said ‘sorry’ to Pakistan over the deaths of over two dozen Pakistani troops in a Nato air raid in the Salala area of Mohmand Agency last year. Drone strikes, however, remain a bone of contention between the two countries.
Three remotely-piloted US aircraft fired a total of six missiles on a compound belonging to a group of militants, led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, in the Zawai Sedgai area, about 60 kilometres west of Miramshah, in Datta Khel Tehsil, an official told The Express Tribune.
The first strike killed nine militants, three more were killed in a second attack when militants drove to the site to recover bodies, and a third drone killed three more five minutes later, a Peshawar-based senior security official told AFP.
The official who spoke to The Express Tribune said that at least 15 suspected militants were killed in these strikes. Local sources, however, put the number of dead militants at 21.
Officials said the drone struck when the militants had gathered to send fighters to Afghanistan.
Datta Khel is considered to be a stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a direct descendent of the legendry fighter from Waziristan Faqir of Ipi.
Gul Bahadur is said to have close links with the Haqqani network, the deadly Taliban group which the US blames for most attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Last month, Hafiz Gul Bahadur banned polio vaccination in North Waziristan saying that his group would not allow vaccination drives until the US called off the drone campaign.
His associate in the neighbouring South Waziristan, Maulvi Nazir, has also followed suit and banned polio vaccination in the region under his control.
(ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2012.
More in PakistanHealthcare crisis: Punjab medics call off strike – partially