International interest in events in Pakistan may have shifted to the humanitarian crisis caused by floods and a fresh wave of terrorist bombings. But three reported attacks with drone-borne missiles on Wednesday serve as a reminder that an intense, secret U.S. air campaign is continuing against alleged terrorist targets in the country's tribal regions.
The Voice of America’s Web site quoted Pakistani officials saying that three suspected attacks with missiles from U.S.-operated drones killed at least 15 people in the North Waziristan region along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. According to this report, the first attack, in a village called Dande Darpa Khel, was aimed at a compound used by a member of the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban group that for some time has been operating mainly from the Pakistani side of the border. VOA’s sources said at least seven suspected militants were killed in the attack.
In another of the latest incidents, a drone-borne missile reportedly killed four militants who were riding in a vehicle near a town called Datta Khel. A third missile strike near Miran Shah, a major town in North Waziristan, also allegedly killed four militants.
The latest reported drone attacks occur in the wake of a series of significant bombings in major cities in Pakistan, whose government is already stretched to the limits as it tries to bring relief to millions of citizens displaced by epic flooding caused by unusually intense monsoon rains. The Associated Press reported that the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for the bombings—part of an attempt to destabilize the country and further undermine the authority and control of its civilian government.
U.S. officials say the drone campaign against suspected terrorist encampments in Pakistani tribal areas has proceeded at a relatively steady pace, despite the country’s internal upheavals, and that the three drone strikes reported to have occurred Wednesday represent a steady continuation of the campaign, rather than an intensification of the American-backed secret war.
Officials said the targets of the latest drone strikes are believed to have included both “foreign fighters” affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban and native Pakistani or Afghan fighters. U.S. policymakers say they believe the recent wave of bombings attributed to the Pakistani Taliban demonstrates why U.S. forces and those allies in the Pakistani government who are not otherwise beleaguered cannot afford to let up pressure, even in times of great crisis, on suspected militant encampments.
A U.S. official familiar with recent events, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, noted: “You’re seeing the continuation of a long, precise campaign to erode the ability of terrorists to operate in the tribal areas. That includes attack planners, facilitators, and fighters. It’s a reminder that Al Qaeda and its violent allies may be bleeding, but they’re still out there, and they’re still very dangerous.”