Pakistan Says U.S. Drone Strike Kills Suspected Militants
(nytimes.com) SLAMABAD, Pakistan — An American drone struck militant hide-outs in northwestern Pakistan for the second consecutive day on Thursday, despite public calls by the Pakistani government halt the controversial covert C.I.A. campaign.
Estimates varied on the number of fatalities killed in Thursday’s strike. Seven to 10 suspected militants were believed to have died when the drone struck a compound in northwestern Pakistan, government officials and locals said.
The drone strikes come at a time when diplomatic relations between the United States and Pakistan have worsened over Pakistan’s refusal to reopen NATO supply lines that were closed down last November. Pakistan has been demanding an American apology over an airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. In order to reopen the NATO supply lines, Pakistan’s Parliament has demanded an end to drone strikes and the government is seeking a much higher transit fee for each NATO container.
Thursday’s drone strike occurred in Hasso Khe in the Lar Dewar area, about two miles from Mir Ali town in North Waziristan, an area considered a redoubt of local and foreign militants. Most of the militants killed in the strike were Uzbek fighters who belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, said local residents who were reached by telephone.
A strike on Wednesday in the village of Datta Khel Kalai, also in North Waziristan, killed four suspected militants, The Associated Press reported, citing Pakistani intelligence officials.
The American drone strikes are immensely unpopular in the country and have caused increasing friction between the two countries. While the United States views the unmanned aircraft as vital in the fight against militants, the drones are seen as a breach of national sovereignty that also cause civilian deaths.
Politicians across the political spectrum have been unanimous in their criticism of the unmanned aircraft.
Earlier this week, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the son of President Asif Ali Zardari and slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, demanded a halt in drone strikes during a speech in New York.
“The continuing unilateral U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil are a constant irritant to Pakistani public opinion — both as a clear violation of our sovereignty and the toll of collateral damage to innocent victims,” Mr. Zardari said, addressing a gathering of supporters.
“I would like the American public to consider what their reaction would have been if American troops had been killed in such an attack on their border with Mexico,” he said.
Political analysts here say that the anti-American public sentiment and the view that drone have caused a high number of civilian casualties forced the government to adopt a tough posture on the strikes, even though some officials previously gave tacit support for the strategy.
Protests against the drones have been more visible in the country’s urban areas though rarely seen in the tribal regions, where local residents acknowledge the drones have forced the militants to flee deeper into the mountains.
“It’s quite obvious that drones are giving the Americans the kind of results they want against the militants,” said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a columnist for Dawn, a leading English language daily. “Drone strikes fill the gap that Pakistan’s armed forces and government should be filling, but are not.”
Mr. Paracha said that despite the public outcry, it is obvious that drone strikes will continue.