PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A series of missile strikes killed at least 19 suspected insurgents Saturday in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, signaling that the new year would bring no respite in a relentless campaign of U.S. attacks employing unmanned aerial drones to target militants.
The strikes in the North Waziristan tribal area were apparently aimed at the Haqqani network, an offshoot of the Taliban movement and one of the deadliest foes of U.S. and other Western forces in Afghanistan. The group’s fighters operate mainly in the eastern part of Afghanistan but seek shelter in neighboring Pakistan.
The multiple missile hits in the same area over a period of several hours, targeting two vehicles and a compound, suggested that intelligence might have indicated the presence of a high-level commander. The compound belonged to a man affiliated with a commander named Gul Bhadur, who is a senior associate of Siraj Haqqani, the network’s chieftain.
Presumed U.S. drones staged nearly 120 missile strikes last year in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which a variety of militant groups are known to use as a sanctuary. North Waziristan is the Haqqani group’s home base.
With drone strikes steadily intensifying, this remote-control war has grown politically unpopular in Pakistan. However, its government is thought to be providing assistance, both active and tacit, in tracking militant figures to be targeted.
Saturday’s strikes coincided with the year’s first two reported deaths of Western troops in Afghanistan. The victims’ nationalities were not disclosed.