The United States fired missiles at three suspected militant targets in north-west Pakistan today, killing 16 people and keeping the pressure on insurgents days after a strike was believed to have killed a top al-Qaida commander, intelligence officials said.
The identities of the dead in the unusually intense volley of drone-fired strikes in the tribal region of South Waziristan were not known, but several Arabs were said to be among the victims of one of them, according to the officials.
Since the US raid which killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, missile strikes have picked up pace from a relative lull in the year’s first half. But anger at the bin Laden operation, seen by Pakistan as a violation of its sovereignty, has led to fresh calls on Washington to stop the attacks.
Today’s attacks occurred in South Waziristan, where the Pakistani army launched an offensive in 2009 but where al-Qaida and Taliban fighters still remain.
Before dawn, one set of missiles hit a compound in Wucha Dana village, killing seven people. The second set landed at about the same time at a Muslim seminary in the same village, killing five people, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.
They said several Arab men were believed to be among the dead.
Later, missiles hit a vehicle travelling in Dra Nishter village elsewhere in the region, killing four, official said.
Pakistani authorities said yesterday that they were increasingly sure that a missile strike in South Waziristan on Friday killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a top al-Qaida commander rumoured to be a longshot contender to replace bin Laden as the terror network’s chief.
Getting definitive confirmation about who died in the missile strikes is difficult, especially if no body is retrieved. US officials have not confirmed whether Kashmiri died. Pakistani officials declined to comment on whether they had assisted the US in the strike.
America said its missiles have killed hundreds of militants, including several top al-Qaida commanders, since they began in earnest in 2008. There have been more 30 this year, compared with last year’s tally of around 130. Some experts question their legality and the secrecy under which they operate. Transparent investigations of alleged civilian casualties are not carried out.
Also today, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a bomb which killed 18 people at a bakery in an army neighbourhood in the north-west town of Nowshera the previous night. The militant group said the attack was in revenge for Pakistani army actions against them in the nearby Swat Valley.