Drone Strike Kills 14 in Pakistan
By DECLAN WALSH
Published: June 4, 2012
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Missiles fired from a suspected American drone killed at least 14 people in Pakistan’s tribal belt early Monday, the third strike in three days and a signal of the Obama administration’s determination to press ahead with the controversial covert campaign even as it conducts tense political negotiations in Islamabad.
The attack in North Waziristan, a bustling hub of Taliban and Al Qaeda militancy along the Afghan border, was the eighth strike since a major NATO summit meeting in Chicago ended two weeks ago without agreement on reopening NATO supply lines through Pakistan.
Pakistan blocked the supply lines in November after American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and weeks of negotiations have become bogged down in arguments over transit fees.
With a Congressional deadline looming, officials on both sides agree that time for a deal is running short. A senior Defense Department official, Peter Lavoy, is due in Islamabad this week as part of urgent efforts to break the deadlock.
Pakistani officials said on Monday that two missiles slammed into a compound and a pickup truck in Hassu Khel, a small village just south of Mir Ali, the second-largest town of North Waziristan. Fourteen to 16 people were killed in the attack, officials said, making it the deadliest in the tribal belt since November 2011.
A journalist from the area said the compound was being used by Uzbek, Tajik and Turkmen militants fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a Qaeda-affiliated extremist group.
Pakistan’s Parliament demanded an end to drone strikes in April, but the country’s powerful military is unable or unwilling to stop them. The latest strike could complicate efforts to end the impasse over NATO supply lines.
“This is nothing but pressure tactics and preparing for the second term,” said a senior Pakistani security official, referring to both the NATO negotiations and President Obama’s re-election campaign. “They want to prove something.”
But a senior American official said the surge was driven by recent good weather over Waziristan, not any desire to pressure the Pakistanis. "Until now the area was socked in by a long stationary front with cloud cover," the official said.
As part of negotiations, Pakistan's leading English language newspaper, Dawn, reported on Monday that the United States had agreed to reimburse $1.18 billion in military aid payments – three quarters of the figure demanded by Pakistan. Now the two sides have two weeks to agree on NATO supply lines, because Congress requires two weeks advance notice to review any new arrangement before the July 4 summer break.
Several of the latest drone strikes have targeted Taliban groups using the tribal belt as a base for attacks on NATO and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan. One strike on Sunday near Wana, the capital of South Waziristan tribal agency, targeted Mullah Malang, a senior commander with a Pakistani group that has carried out regular attacks in Paktika, Paktiya and Ghazni Provinces.
Speaking by phone, a government official in Wana said Mullah Malang and another commander were injured in the attack. “According to our information both are stable now,” he said.
At least three other commanders from the same group, which is led by the militant cleric Maulavi Nazir, have been killed by drone strikes.