A US drone strike in Pakistan yesterday killed up to 21 Afghan fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, considered the top US foe in eastern Afghanistan, authorities said.
Pakistani officials said a US drone fired two missiles, destroying a vehicle and a compound in North Waziristan, the headquarters of the Haqqani leadership and the most infamous militant bastion in the semi-autonomous tribal belt.
“More dead bodies have been dug out of the debris. Twenty-one militants from the Haqqani group were killed and three were injured,” a Pakistani security official said in Peshawar, the largest city in the northwest.
“It was Haqqani’s compound and his fighters were using it as a camp. They used to gather round for midnight food,” said another Pakistani official, referring to Muslims’ pre-dawn meal during the month of Ramadan.
“All those killed were Haqqani’s men and Afghans, but we have reports that some Arabs and Uzbeks were also present at the time of attack and were killed,” the official added on condition of anonymity.
Although the US does not publicly confirm Predator drone attacks, its military and the CIA in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the armed, unmanned Predator aircraft in the region.
Washington has called Pakistan’s semi-autonomous northwest tribal region the global headquarters of al-Qaeda, where Taliban and other al-Qaeda-linked networks have rear bases in the 10-year war in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani network is considered the most dangerous enemy of US troops in eastern Afghanistan. It was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani and is run by his son, Sirajuddin, both designated “global terrorists” by Washington.
The network has been blamed for some of the deadliest anti-US attacks in Afghanistan, including a suicide attack at a US base in the eastern province of Khost in 2009 that killed seven CIA operatives.
Pakistani officials said the missiles struck the Haqqani camp close to Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, at 2:15am.
Some Pakistani officials put the death toll at 18, but acknowledged that more bodies were being dug out of the rubble.
The officials said a pick-up vehicle parked outside the compound was also destroyed.
Residents in Miranshah reported hearing two huge blasts a minute apart as they were waking up for a night-time meal before the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast.
One resident said he later saw 16 coffins laid out in the back of vehicles, which were then taken to a nearby graveyard.
Around two dozen drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan since elite US forces killed Osama bin Laden in a suburban home near Pakistan’s main military academy in Abbottabad on May 2.
The raid humiliated Pakistan and prompted allegations of incompetence and complicity in sheltering bin Laden.