A triple US drone attack on a militant compound in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal area killed at least 15 insurgents late on Friday, security officials said.
Three unmanned aircraft fired a total of six missiles on Datta Khel Village, about 35km east of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal district, near the Afghan border, they said.
The initial strike on a house killed nine militants, three more were killed in a second attack when they drove to the site to recover dead bodies and a third drone killed three more 5 minutes later, a senior security official in Peshawar said.
“At least 15 militants have been killed in these three drone strikes and the drones fired a total of six missiles,” the official said.
Two security officials in Miranshah confirmed all the three strikes, but said that at least 20 militants have been killed, and one said the militants had gathered to send fighters to Afghanistan.
Datta Khel is considered to be a stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Taliban commander who is accused of sending fighters across the border to fight NATO troops in Afghanistan.
It was the first drone attack since Islamabad reached a deal with Washington to reopen land routes into Afghanistan after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was sorry for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike in November.
Clinton delivered the US apology — long sought by Pakistan, but resisted by the administration of US President barack Obama — in a telephone conversation with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar last week, and the two pledged to work to improve relations, which have taken a nosedive since US forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory last year.
Drone attacks are highly unpopular in Pakistan, where they are seen as an infringement of the country’s sovereignty and counterproductive in the fight against extremists. US officials consider the attacks a vital weapon in the war against Islamist extremists, despite concerns from rights activists over civilian casualties. A similar attack in the region on Sunday killed six militants.
Islamabad is understood to have approved the drone strikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in the past, but the government has become increasingly vocal in its public opposition as relations with Washington have nosedived.
In related news, Clinton is scheduled to meet Khar on the sidelines of a Tokyo conference on Afghanistan today, seeking to push momentum for better ties after Islamabad agreed to reopen land routes used to supply troops in Afghanistan following a seven-month freeze, a US official with Clinton in Paris said on Friday.
Gunmen on motorcycles opened fire at a roadside restaurant in southwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing 18 people, officials said.
The people killed in the restaurant attack in the remote town of Turbat in Baluchistan Province were Pakistanis traveling with smugglers to Europe through neighboring Iran, said Abdul Razzaq, a government official in the area. Two people were also wounded, he said.
It was unclear what motivated the attack. Baluchistan regularly experiences violence from both Islamist militants and nationalists who demand a greater share of the province’s natural resources.