ISLAMABAD – A U.S. drone fired a missile into a suspected militant hide-out in Pakistan's lawless northwest, killing 11 people in the stronghold of a jihadist commander accused of attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.
The United States is suspected of having launched more than 40 missile strikes from unmanned planes on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets close to the Afghan border since last year, reportedly killing several top commanders, but also civilians. Earlier this month, one such strike is believed to have killed the Pakistani Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud.
Friday's attack was on a housing compound in Dande Darpa Khel, a village less than a mile west of Miran Shah in North Waziristan, three intelligence officers said condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Eleven people were killed, some of whom were Afghans, two of the officers said.
Authorities stepped up security in the region following the attack, and the officials said they were working to get more details about the victims.
Dande Darpa Khel and surrounding areas are strongholds of Afghan Taliban leader Siraj Haqqani, whose network is powerful in eastern Afghanistan. He has a large Islamic school in the village that was hit by a suspected U.S. missile in October 2008, killing about 20 people.
Siraj is the son of senior Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the fight against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, who American commanders now count as a dangerous foe. Haqqani is alleged to have close connections to Al Qaeda and to have helped funnel foreign fighters into Afghanistan.
The Haqqanis have been linked to attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai and a suicide attack on a hotel in Kabul, both last year. Haqqani network operatives also plague U.S. forces in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province with ambushes and roadside bombs.
Pakistan's border region is remote, mountainous and there is little government or military control there. Al-Qaida's top leaders, including Usama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding in the area and militants move freely across the border.
The U.S. occasionally fired missiles into the region beginning in 2006, but dramatically stepped up the attacks last year.
The strikes have targeted militants behind surging attacks in Pakistan, those blamed for violence in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists allegedly using the area to plot or train for terrorist attacks around the world.
The missiles are fired from CIA-operated drones believed to be launched from across the border in Afghanistan or from secret bases inside Pakistan. They are reported to be piloted by operatives inside the United States. U.S. officials rarely — if ever — acknowledge the airstrikes.
The Pakistani government publicly protests the attacks, which are unpopular among many in the Muslim country of 170 million people, many of whom see the United States and its allies as conducting an unjust war against fellow Muslims in Afghanistan.
Despite this, it is assumed to be cooperating with the strikes and providing intelligence for them.
The government says Washington should give the technology to Islamabad because its military is capable of using the drones.