ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A drone strike in Pakistan's tribal areas killed eight suspected militants early Monday, Pakistani officials said, as the U.S. pushes ahead with the controversial drone program despite Pakistani demands to stop.
The strike was the seventh in less than two weeks and highlights the importance that Washington places on the drone program as a way to combat al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who use Pakistan as a base for attacks against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
In the most recent attack, three Pakistani intelligence officials say four missiles were fired at a suspected militant hideout in a village near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan early Monday morning.
North Waziristan is one of the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan that has become a hub of militant activity.
The attack followed closely on the heels of another drone strike Sunday that killed 10 suspected militants. Two Pakistani intelligence officials say in that attack, four missiles were fired at targets in the village of Mana Raghzai in South Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan.
At the time of the attack, suspected militants were gathered to offer condolences to the brother of a militant commander killed during another drone strike Saturday.
The brother was one of those who died in the Sunday morning strike.
All the Pakistani officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The American drone campaign, which has accelerated under President Barack Obama, has become a source of deep frustration and tension between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Secretly, many Pakistani military commanders are believed to support the drone campaign. But among the Pakistani public, where the U.S. is viewed with mistrust, the drone strikes are considered an affront to the nation's sovereignty.
The Pakistani government and parliament have repeatedly asked the U.S. to stop the strikes.
The ongoing attacks are also complicating efforts for the U.S. and Pakistan to come to an agreement over reopening the supply routes to NATO and American forces in Afghanistan. American airstrikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, prompting Islamabad to block U.S. and NATO supply lines running through its territory.
Pakistan has demanded an apology over the raid and an end to drone strikes as a precursor to reopening the supply lines. But the U.S. has shown no intention of ending the attacks.
Also Sunday, gunmen killed four Shiite minority Muslims, a police officer and a bystander in a busy market of southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, said police officer Abdul Wahid. He said police were investigating who could be behind the attack, but that it had a sectarian motive.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan became the scene of a proxy war between mostly Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, with both sides funneling money to sectarian groups that regularly targeted each other.
The level of sectarian violence has declined somewhat since then, but attacks continue. In recent years, Sunni attacks on Shiites have been far more common.
Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Abdul Sattar in Quetta, and Rasool Dawar in Peshawar contributed to this report.