US drones fired off a volley of missiles targeting al Qaeda linked fighters in North Waziristan on Wednesday, killing 15 militants in the third deadly strike in 24 hours, security officials said.
A pre-dawn attack was directed at the Haqqani network, officials said, one of the toughest foes for foreign forces in the war in Afghanistan. “Several US drones fired eight missiles at two militant compounds early this morning, killing at least 12 militants,” a senior security official told a news agency. “The missile strike targeted militants of the Haqqani network.”
A second US drone attack on a militant compound in Payekhel village of Datta Khel district of North Waziristan killed three rebels, local security officials said. The barrage hit the village of Dargah Mandi on the outskirts of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan where US missiles also killed 15 militants in two separate attacks on Tuesday.
“We have no reports about the presence of any high-value target among those killed, all of those targeted were attached to the Haqqani group,” an intelligence official based in Miranshah said.
Created by Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and run by his son Sirajuddin, the network is linked to both al Qaeda and the Taliban and has become a particularly prickly thorn in the side of US-led forces trying to bring security to eastern Afghanistan.
Residents said the targeted houses had been rented out to militants by local tribesman Bacha Khan and were destroyed in the attacks, which caused panic in the village.
“As the US drones came over the village people started running here and there shouting ‘run, drones have come,’” a local tribesman told a news agency, requesting anonymity.
The intelligence official put the number of missiles fired at 10, saying several drones came from all directions, while another said three militants were also wounded in the strike.
This month alone, a surge in US missile strikes has killed 76 militants in the tribal belt on the Afghan border.
On Tuesday, 11 militants were killed in an attack by the unmanned bombers on the village of Bushnarai in Shawal district, a known stronghold of Taliban warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur that is populated by Arab fighters.
Another four were killed in Qutabkhel village south of Miranshah when US drones fired missiles on militant vehicles, officials said. Local sources told The Express Tribune that Commander Saifullah, a close relative of Haqqani was among those killed in Tuesday’s attack.
US forces have been waging a drone war against Taliban and al Qaeda-linked commanders in the northwest, where militants have carved out havens in mountains outside direct government control.
Officials in Washington say the drone strikes are a vital tool needed to protect foreign troops in Afghanistan and have killed a number of high-value targets including Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
Although the US military does not as a rule confirm the attacks, its armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy pilotless drones in the region. (Additional reporting by Manzoor Ali)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2010.