A US drone strike killed four Islamist militants in Pakistan, the first such attack since errant US airstrikes in November killed two dozen Pakistani troops and pushed strained ties between the two nations close to collapse, Pakistani intelligence officials said yesterday.
The attack on Tuesday took place in North Waziristan, an al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold close to the Afghan border that has been pounded by US strikes, the officials said. Three of the dead were Arab fighters, the officials said. The officials did not give their names because they were not allowed to be named in the media.
The late-night missile launch broke the longest pause between strikes since the drone program began in earnest in 2009.
US officials say there had been no promise by Washington to avoid drone operations since the deadly Nov. 26 airstrikes along the Afghan border, but that the lull was part of efforts to tamp down tensions with Pakistan, seen by many US officials as key to a negotiated peace in Afghanistan.
After the US strike, Islamabad shut down vital supply routes into Afghanistan and forced the US to vacate Shamsi Air Base in southwestern Baluchistan Province.
While there has been some level of Pakistani acquiescence to the drone program, the attacks are extremely unpopular with the public.
The missiles struck a house about 2km from Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, shortly before midnight, locals said.
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday sacked his defense secretary for “gross misconduct,” a senior government official said, a move that is likely to ratchet up tensions with the country’s power military.
“Prime minister has terminated the contract of defense secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi for gross misconduct,” he said.
Lodhi is a retired lieutenant general and his sacking came just hours after the army warned that critical comments made by the prime minister would have “serious ramifications” and could wreak “potentially grievous consequences for the country.”
Gilani earlier in the week told China’s People’s Daily online that the army chief and head of intelligence services had acted unlawfully by making unilateral submissions to an ongoing Supreme Court inquiry.
The court’s commission is investigating a controversial unsigned memo that allegedly sought the help of the US military in curbing the Pakistan military’s power in the wake of the covert US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May last year.
Additional reporting by Reuters