by Salman Masood and Pir Zubair Shah
July 7, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two missiles fired from a remotely piloted American aircraft struck a militant base on Tuesday in the South Waziristan tribal region, killing 16 militants, according to intelligence officials and residents reached by telephone.
A recent attack on the same village, Zangara, missed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban by hours, a Pakistani security official said soon after that missile strike.
The United States and Pakistan routinely withhold comment on suspected drone attacks.
The Pakistani military, which is locked in renewed battle with the Taliban, has been preparing a full-scale offensive in South Waziristan, where the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, is based. In the prelude to the offensive, drone attacks have appeared to try to home in on Mr. Mehsud and forces loyal to him.
Before that, the United States was sending drones mainly to attack foreign members of Al Qaeda or Taliban commanders who focused their attacks on neighboring Afghanistan. Mr. Mehsud, however, has taken on the Pakistani government and is accused of masterminding a string of deadly suicide bombings in the country.
One intelligence official who spoke about Tuesday’s drone attack on the condition of anonymity said three Uzbek militants had been killed along with 13 local Taliban militants.
Mr. Mehsud’s subtribe, the Shabi Khel, is based in the area, and Makeen, a town where intelligence officials have thought Mr. Mehsud is based, is nearby. “The attack was very precise and accurate,” a resident reached by telephone said.
Several rooms of the militants’ compound were destroyed in the midday attack, the intelligence official said.
The mountainous region where Mr. Mehsud’s fighters are entrenched is considered one of the most difficult terrains for conventional warfare.
Publicly, Pakistani officials have been critical of the drone strikes, calling them a breach of the country’s sovereignty. But privately, Pakistani officials acknowledge the utility of such attacks, especially when militants are struck with few civilian casualties.
The Pakistani government has repeatedly asked the United States to give it drones to conduct attacks on its own. In an interview that The Daily Telegraph in Britain published on Monday, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, reiterated the demand. “My position is that I have always asked for possession of the drone; I want the Pakistani flag on it,” the paper quoted Mr. Zardari as saying.
Opposition politicians, on the other hand, vociferously oppose drone strikes and see them as a major cause of public dissatisfaction with the United States.
Fuente: The New York Times