US strikes in Pakistan reportedly kill 42
Drones’ barrage targets havens in militant area
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - Four suspected US missile strikes in northwestern Pakistan in less than 24 hours killed at least 42 alleged militants, an unusually heavy barrage at a time when relations between the two countries are badly strained, Pakistani intelligence officials said yesterday.
The strikes follow the Obama administration’s announcement that it is suspending more than one-third of US military aid to Pakistan until disagreements are worked out. The attacks indicate the White House has no intention of stopping the drone program even though the attacks have increasingly caused tension with Pakistan.
The barrage began late Monday when suspected US missiles hit a house in Gorvak village in North Waziristan, killing at least 20 alleged militants, said two Pakistani intelligence officials. Two other Pakistani intelligence officials put the death toll at 23. The village is very close to the border and is often used as a route for militants to cross into Afghanistan.
Missiles also hit a house in the Dremala village of South Waziristan tribal area yesterday, killing at least eight alleged militants, said two Pakistani intelligence officials. Two other intelligence officials put the death toll from the strike at 13.
Also yesterday, suspected US missiles hit a house in the Shawal area of North Waziristan, killing 10 alleged militants, and a car was struck in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan hours later, killing four alleged militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The Pakistani intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The areas where the strikes occurred are very dangerous, so it is difficult to independently confirm the intelligence officials’ accounts.
Pakistan’s reluctance to target Afghan militants based in North Waziristan who stage cross-border attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan has been one of the main sources of tension with the United States.
Pakistan says its troops are stretched too thin by operations in other parts of the country, but many analysts believe the government is hesitant to cross militants with whom it has historical ties and who could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
In response, the Obama administration has dramatically increased drone strikes in the area over the past couple of years and has also hit areas in South Waziristan.
The United States refuses to publicly acknowledge the covert CIA drone program in Pakistan, but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed senior Taliban and Al Qaeda officials.
Pakistan is widely believed to have supported the strikes in the past, even though officials often criticize them publicly as a violation of sovereignty. But that support has become less certain in recent months, especially following the covert US raid that killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden on May 2 in a Pakistani garrison town not far from Islamabad.
The raid humiliated the Pakistani military, which was not told about it beforehand. US officials said they kept Pakistan in the dark because they were worried that someone would tip off bin Laden.
The relationship between the two countries has spiraled down since then, and President Obama’s chief of staff, William Daley, said Sunday that the United States was suspending $800 million of its military aid to Pakistan until the two countries can patch things up.
Pakistan’s defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, said in an interview with Pakistani TV Express 24/7 that Pakistan could withdraw its forces from the border regions along Afghanistan due to the cutoff in funds.
But that was contradicted by the army, which holds far more power than the civilian-run defense ministry and which has downplayed the aid suspension.
After a meeting of top commanders yesterday, the army issued a statement saying it was determined to “fight the menace of terrorism in our own national interest using our own resources.’’