A US drone crashed on Saturday in North Waziristan, not far from the Afghan border, Pakistan intelligence officials said, while Taliban militants said they shot it down.
Taliban militants led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur said they had collected wreckage of the destroyed drone and would provide pictures to the media yesterday.
“The drone today in Machikhel was flying at a low altitude and our fighters fired at and shot it down,” a local Taliban commander said.
It is impossible to verify the militants’ account and a US official in Washington denied the Taliban had shot down the drone, but declined further comment. The CIA, which runs the drone campaign, also declined to comment.
Pakistani security officials said they did not know what caused the drone to crash.
“A drone aircraft was seen going down in Machikhel and flames were seen,” a Pakistani intelligence official said.
The Taliban commander said his men had been collecting the wreckage when the Pakistani army showed up and chased them off.
“We got hold of half of the wreckage and were looking for the remaining parts when the Pakistan army troops arrived there and then we decided to leave,” he said.
A security official near the site of the wreck said two of the drone’s missiles exploded when it crashed, but no one was injured.
Pakistani forces stopped the search operation because US drones were still in the area and they feared they would be attacked, he added.
The drone campaign has angered Pakistanis, who say it is a violation of sovereignty and causes many civilian casualties. The US says the strikes are very accurate and the number of civilian deaths is minimal.
The campaign was paused for about two months following an attack on Nov. 26, last year, that by NATO helicopters on two Pakistani border posts that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The incident infuriated the government in Islamabad and prompted Pakistani officials to signal, in more emphatic terms than they had previously, that they would no longer accept the US drone strikes.
That set the administration of US President Barack Obama up for yet another potential collision with Pakistan as it continues the drone program that has become a centerpiece of US efforts to quash militancy there.
The border deaths, which NATO deemed an accident, prompted Pakistan to shut down an overland supply route that is key for NATO troops in Afghanistan and to force US personnel off an air base in southwest Pakistan that had been used to launch drone strikes in the tribal areas.
However, while Pakistani politicians frequently criticize the strikes in public, in private many have long supported and even encouraged the strikes, provided they steer clear of certain areas and targets.
Spotter networks run by Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, continued to provide targeting information to the US.