DERA ISMAIL KHAN – Pakistani jets killed 12 suspected militants in South Waziristan on Thursday, a day after suspected U.S. missile strikes killed up to 45 insurgents in twin strikes in the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, intelligence officials said.
The convergence of U.S. and Pakistani interests against Mehsud suggests the two uneasy allies are cooperating in the U.S. missile strikes, making it harder for Islamabad to protest them publicly as it has in the past.
The jets pounded suspected Taliban hideouts in four villages Thursday in Ladha and Kani Guram areas of the South Waziristan tribal region, near the Afghan border, four intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media.
Two of the officials said 12 militants were recovered from destroyed houses where they were staying. The other officials confirmed the bombing runs, but had no details of casualties.
Independent verification of the targets and casualties was not possible because the region is remote, dangerous and largely inaccessible to journalists.
Pakistan's mountainous border region with Afghanistan is home to Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who plot attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is witnessing an unprecedented level of violence against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.
South Waziristan is the stronghold of Mehsud and his followers, whom the government blames for more than 90 percent of the suicide bombings in Pakistan in recent years. The U.S. State Department says Mehsud is a key Al Qaeda facilitator in the region.
American drones are believed to have carried out more than 45 attacks in the border area since August. Although most have targeted foreign Al Qaeda militants and those accused of violence in Afghanistan, increasingly they are aimed at the Mehsud network. American officials do not acknowledge the attacks, which are carried out by unmanned planes.
The first strike Wednesday took place before dawn. Six missiles were fired at a mountaintop training camp in the Karwan Manza area of South Waziristan, killing 10 militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity.
Hours later, 12 miles to the east, missiles hit four vehicles carrying Taliban militants, killing at least 35, one intelligence official said. Another said 50 were killed. Independent verification was not possible.
The government routinely protests suspected U.S. missile strikes as violations of Pakistani sovereignty and has publicly asked the U.S. to give it technology to launch its own attacks. But many analysts suspect the government — which has received billions of dollars from the U.S. since 2001 — supports the strikes, especially those against Mehsud and his group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
"They are decrying them on one hand and aiding and abetting them on the other," said Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia center at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council. "It is helpful for the Pakistanis when the TTP is being targeted. There is obviously much better coordination now."