PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Ten suspected militants were killed in a pre-dawn drone strike on a compound in a tribal district in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, a local tribesman and security official said.
The drone fired two missiles on a house in Hassokhel village of Mirali subdivision in North Waziristan, the officials said. Initial reports said eight militants, including five “foreigners,” were killed and several wounded. The toll was later increased to 10, according to a security official in the area who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He identified the five militants as “Central Asian nationals linked to al-Qaeda.”
A local tribesman, speaking by telephone, said a mosque adjacent to the targeted house also was partially damaged. Militants have cordoned off the compound and were moving the dead and injured, he said.
This is the second drone attack within the past 24 hours. Four suspected militants were killed in a drone strike in Miranshah in North Waziristan on Wednesday. The district is believed to host thousands of militants from al-Qaeda and Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups, including the Haqqani Network.
Pakistan is under pressure from the United States to launch an offensive against Haqqani group, which the United States and NATO blame for deadly attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan. However, Pakistani officials say the country’s forces are already overstretched and they cannot afford to go after the Haqqanis while tied down in battles against Pakistani Taliban.
The back-to-back strikes from unmanned aircraft come as the shaky counterterrorism alliance between the United States and Pakistan is on the ropes yet again. For six months, Pakistan has shuttered its borders to NATO supply convoys bound for Afghanistan in retaliation for U.S. helicopter and jet-fighter attacks that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year.
In April, Pakistan’s parliament unanimously reiterated its demand — the third in recent years — for an end to U.S. drone strikes on targets in Pakistan. It also sought an “unconditional apology” for the border-post attacks, which the Pentagon has called accidental.
U.S. officials have expressed regret for the killings, but won’t apologize. Washington also has ruled out paying the exponentially higher freight tariffs that Islamabad is demanding to reopen the supply routes.
Few officials in Islamabad or Washington really expected the drone strikes to end — they are seen on both sides as effective and efficient. But the strikes are widely perceived by the public as an assault on Pakistan’s sovereignty, a view embraced by politicians playing to anti-U.S. sentiments — even as civilian and military leaders here privately support the killings of al Qaeda members and other militants.
Civilian casualties attributed to the strikes have dropped because of more refined targeting, U.S. officials say, but any deaths of innocents sow further public outrage — and are said to drive more local tribesmen to join the militants. A common but unverifiable calculus in Pakistan holds that 10 militants are created for every civilian death.
Some Pakistani politicians have suggested that the nation deploy its F-16 fighter jets to target militants as a substitute for the drones, but the United States views that as an invitation to massive casualties.
“At this point there is no significant collateral damage,” said a senior U.S. official, requesting anonymity to discuss the CIA program — which technically remains classified even if widely known.