The controversial US drone campaign continues unabated in utter disregard for repeated protests from Islamabad.
On Sunday, American unmanned aircraft fired missiles into a compound of suspected militants in North Waziristan Agency, killing a senior al Qaeda leader.
Muhammad Ahmed al Mansoor was among four suspected militants killed in the drone strike that took place in Tabai, a village in the Ghulam Khan tehsil of North Waziristan, tribal sources told The Express Tribune.
Tabai village is said to be a hideout for militants belonging to several groups, including those from the faction of Pakistani Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the Haqqani network which, US officials, have blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan.
The drones fired four missiles at a house with al Mansoor inside, destroying two rooms and a car, tribal sources said. Residents saw four drones flying over the area during the attack. Tribal sources added that three other fatalities were family members of al Mansoor.
Intelligence officials confirmed the attack and the death toll but said the identity of those killed was not immediately known. They, however, confirmed that a foreign national was among the fatalities. The targeted compound was frequented by the Punjabi Taliban, a security official told The Express Tribune. The dead were charred beyond recognition, he added.
If officially confirmed, al Mansoor will be the second al Qaeda leader to be killed in drone strikes in three days. A similar attack on Thursday, also in North Waziristan, killed another senior al Qaeda commander, Abu Zaid, who replaced Abu Yahya al Libi as one of the group’s most powerful figures, intelligence sources said.
A US drone attack also killed al Libi in June.
The contentious drone campaign has crushed al Qaeda’s network in the tribal belt but have drawn trenchant criticism in Pakistan and the United States. Islamabad says drone strikes violate its sovereignty and fan anti-US sentiment, but American officials are said to believe they are too important to give up.
Casualty figures are difficult to obtain. A report commissioned by legal lobby group Reprieve in September estimated that between 474 and 881 civilians were among 2,562 to 3,325 people killed by drones in Pakistan between June 2004 and September 2012. (With additional input from Wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2012.