While US drone assaults have become a norm in Waziristan, a deadly strike was conducted in Orakzai Agency on Thursday – indicating that not only was the unmanned campaign not going to stop, it my actually spread.
In fact, the strike sets a number of ominous records.
At least 17 people were reported to have been killed in the latest strike – the second in less than 24 hours. On Wednesday, a US drone strike targeting another compound in North Waziristan killed five fighters, according to security officials. It is said that 20 others were injured in Thursday’s strike, and that those hit were mostly Afghans in a ‘militant compound’. The strike is only the second ever in Orakzai Agency since the US launched its drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal belt – and the first in over three years. On April 1, 2009, 12 militants were killed when a US drone fired missiles on the suspected headquarters of the local Taliban chief in Khadezai area of Orakzai region
The death toll of 17 is also the highest since August last year, when a strike killed 21 Taliban fighters. An official of the Orakzai political administration told The Express Tribune that four missiles were fired on a compound belonging to Maulvi Shakirullah, a commander in the forces of Pakistani warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Bahadur is an ally of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network blamed by the Americans for a string of high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.
An intelligence official requesting anonymity said the militants had sealed off the flattened building and were recovering bodies. The compound was located in the Bulandkhel area on the border between Orakzai and North Waziristan.
“Initial reports say 11 militants have died,” said political administration chief Khushal Khan in Orakzai district, adding that most of the dead were Afghans.
His deputy Rafiq Mohmand later put the toll at 17. “Several militants were wounded who died later,” Mohmand said. A security official confirmed the attack and the death toll.
The Foreign Office, meanwhile, lodged a fresh protest with the US over the continued drone attacks. The ministry spokesperson on Thursday said the US embassy was informed that drone strikes on Pakistani territory are a “clear violation of international law and Pakistan’s sovereignty.”
“These attacks are unacceptable,” said the foreign ministry spokesperson Moazzam Ali Khan, in a statement issued here. This is not the first time that Pakistan has condemned and lodged a formal protest with the US on the matter.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP AND OUR CORRESPONDENT IN ISLAMABAD)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2012.