Suspected US missiles killed 18 people on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, security officials said, the first attacks on the al-Qaeda stronghold since US President Barack Obama took office.
At least five foreign militants were among those killed in the strikes by unmanned aircraft on Friday in two parts of the frontier region, an intelligence official said without naming them. There was no information on the identities of the others.
Pakistan’s leaders had expressed hope Obama might halt the strikes, but few observers expected he would end a tactic that US officials say has killed several top al-Qaeda operatives and is denying the terrorist network a long-held safe haven.
The US has staged more than 30 missile strikes inside Pakistan since last August — a barrage seen as a sign of frustration in Washington over Islamabad’s efforts to curb militants that the US blames for violence in Afghanistan and fears could be planning attacks on the West.
Pakistan publicly protests the strikes in the northwest as violations of its sovereignty that often kill civilians and undermine its own campaign against terrorists that have also launched bloody attacks on domestic targets.
But many observers believe the government secretly agrees with the tactic and may provide intelligence on the targets, saying that Islamabad’s admitting to assisting the attacks would be politically damaging.
The first attack on Friday took place in the village of Zharki in North Waziristan, when a single drone fired three missiles in the space of 10 minutes, the security officials said.
The missiles destroyed two buildings, killing 10 people, at least five of whom were foreign militants, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Hours later, a second missile struck a house in South Waziristan, killing eight people, the officials said, giving no more details.
The US does not acknowledges firing the missiles, which are believed to be mostly fired from drones operated by the CIA and launched from neighboring Afghanistan.
An AP tally based on accounts from Pakistani security officials showed that at least 263 people — most of them alleged militants — have been killed in the strikes since last August.
A US strike on New Year’s Eve killed two Kenyans said to be among al-Qaeda’s top operatives on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list, a US official said recently.
General David Petraeus, who is in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said late last year that at least three top extremist leaders were killed in recent months due to the missile strikes.
Pakistan’s government has little control over the border region, which is considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders.
Obama is making the war in Afghanistan and the intertwined al-Qaeda fight in Pakistan his top foreign policy priority. He has not commented on the missile strike policy, but struck a hawkish tone during his election campaign.