US drones hit militant hideouts near Afghan border,kill 18
ISLAMABAD—U.S. missiles slammed into three compounds close to the Afghan border Friday, killing 18 suspected militants, Pakistani officials said, just a day after the government summoned an American diplomat to protest drone strikes in the country’s northwest tribal region.
The suspected militant hideouts were hit minutes apart. They were located several kilometers (miles) from each other in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main militant sanctuary in Pakistan, said intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
The U.S. has carried out seven drone strikes in the past week in North Waziristan, ignoring Pakistani protests that they violate the country’s sovereignty. The attacks have exacerbated the already troubled relationship between the two countries, but the U.S. has refused to stop the strikes, saying they are vital to combating Taliban and al-Qaida militants who pose a threat to the West.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned a U.S. diplomat to protest the wave of drone strikes.
“A senior U.S. diplomat was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and informed that the drone strikes were unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. It was emphatically stated that such attacks were unacceptable,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The diplomat was not identified.
The Pakistani government is widely believed to have supported the strikes in the past. That cooperation has come under strain as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated, but U.S. officials say privately that there are still senior members of Pakistan’s government and military who condone the attacks. The U.S. rarely discusses the covert CIA-run drone program in Pakistan publicly.
The strikes are unpopular in Pakistan because many people believe they kill mostly civilians—an allegation denied by the U.S.
The suspected militant hideouts that were attacked Friday in the Shawal area of North Waziristan were each hit by two missiles, said the intelligence officials. Militants often use the hideouts when they are crossing into Afghanistan, the officials said. In addition to the 18 suspected militants who were killed, 14 others were wounded, they said.
There has been a string of drone strikes over the past week.
On Saturday, five allies of a powerful warlord, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose forces often strike U.S. troops in Afghanistan, died when a U.S. drone struck their hideout. On Sunday, American drones fired a flurry of missiles into the Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan, killing 10 suspected militants in two separate strikes. On Tuesday, missiles targeting a vehicle killed five more suspected militants.
One of the reasons the U.S. has increased the number of drone attacks in Pakistan is the government’s refusal to launch an offensive in North Waziristan against militants who carry out cross-border attacks against American forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently said Pakistan plans to launch an operation in North Waziristan in the near future. But it is likely to focus on Taliban militants who have been at war with the Pakistani state, not those who have been fighting the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.