At least 10 militants were killed and five injured when US pilot-less aircraft rained down a barrage of missiles on suspected militant compounds in the South Waziristan tribal region early Sunday morning, security officials said.
“US drones fired 10 missiles at three militant compounds in the Babar mountains of Shak Toi area, in South Waziristan’s Ladha sub-division,” a security official said.
The compounds were believed to house fighters belonging to the Punjabi Taliban, a group with close links to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al Qaeda.
The official said the compounds were flattened in the attack, which also destroyed three vehicles parked outside.
Another security official told The Express Tribune that the fatalities included 26-year-old Wali Muhammad, codenamed Tofan, who was a senior aide to TTP commander Qari Hussain.
Tofan was also a close relative of Qari Hussain, a second cousin of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud and organiser of the group’s suicide bombing squad.
“We are trying to ascertain the identities of the others but the bodies have been burnt very badly,” the official said and added the death toll may rise, given that there were more militants present in the compounds.
Residents said militants cordoned off the area soon after the attack and sifted through the rubbles to retrieve bodies.
This was the third drone strike of 2013: On January 3, “good Taliban” warlord Mullah Nazir along with six other militants was killed in the Sara Kanda area of Wana sub-division. He is one of the highest-profile drone victims in recent years.
Earlier in the day five militants were killed in a strike in the Mir Ali sub-division of North Waziristan. The covert US drone strikes are publicly criticised by the Pakistani government as a violation of sovereignty and for “collateral damage”, but American officials believe they are a vital weapon in the war against militants.
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 AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2013.