PESHAWAR, Pakistan – U.S. drone-fired missiles hit a house in Pakistan's northwest tribal region near the Afghan border Wednesday, killing eight people, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The attack occurred in Spalga village in the North Waziristan tribal area, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The identities of those killed were unknown, but the area is dominated by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a prominent militant commander focused on fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan.
The U.S. does not publicly discuss details of the covert CIA-run drone program in Pakistan.
The program has caused tensions with Pakistan. Although the government is widely believed to have provided support for the strikes in the past, that cooperation has become strained as its relationship with Washington has deteriorated.
Pakistan kicked the U.S. out of a base used by American drones last year in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops at two Afghan border posts on Nov. 26.
The move is not expected to significantly impact drone operations, but the pace of strikes has slowed since the border incident as the U.S. has tried to repair the relationship with Pakistan.
Pakistan also retaliated for the errant airstrikes by closing its Afghan border crossings to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said Tuesday that the country should reopen the crossings after negotiating a better deal with the coalition.
He did not provide specific details. But other Pakistani officials have suggested that the government levy additional fees on the coalition for using the route because the heavy trucks damage roads.
The closure has forced the United States to spend six times as much money to send supplies to Afghanistan through alternative routes.
Pakistan's parliament is expected to vote on a revised framework for relations with the U.S. in mid-February that could pave the way for the government to reopen the supply line.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said last week that she didn't think it would be much of a problem to reopen the route after the parliament vote.
The defense minister echoed this view, saying, "I think the people who are deciding, who are giving recommendations, will make the right decision."
For most of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, 90 percent of supplies shipped to coalition forces came through Pakistan, via the port of Karachi. But over the past three years, NATO has increased its road and rail shipments through an alternate route that runs through Russia and Central Asia. The northern route was longer and more expensive, but provided a hedge against the riskier Pakistan route.
Before the accidental American airstrikes on Nov. 26, about 30 percent of non-lethal supplies for U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan traveled through Pakistan.
The U.S. has since increased the amount of supplies running through the northern route, but this has cost it a lot more money. Pentagon figures provided to the AP show that the alternative transport is costing about $104 million per month, $87 million more per month than when the cargo moved through Pakistan.