US drone hits Pakistan for 2nd time in 12 hours
LONDON — An American drone struck a militant compound in Pakistan’s tribal belt for the second time in 12 hours on Thursday, killing at least 10 suspected members of the Haqqani network in a suddenly intense resurgence of the controversial CIA offensive in Pakistan.
The U.S. drone strikes, after an almost six-month lull in the operations while Pakistani officials tried and failed to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban.
The strikes, both of which were reported to have killed Haqqani operatives, also came two weeks after the release of the U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a hostage of the Haqqanis for five years. A former U.S. military commander has suggested that Bergdahl’s safety now would give more freedom to strike at the Haqqanis, who are fighting to overthrow the U.S.-backed civilian government in Afghanistan.
Pakistani security officials said Thursday that a CIA drone had fired six missiles at the compound four miles north of Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.
The Haqqani group, headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, has carried out numerous attacks on U.S. and Afghan security forces, as well as hotels and embassies in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
U.S. drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan and usually met with vehement criticism from the government.
In private, some Pakistani officials say they quietly support drone strikes when they suit Pakistan’s perceived self-interest.
But a senior Pakistani security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, insisted that the action did not have prior approval from the Pakistani authorities.
The long lull in CIA strikes coincided with a concerted effort by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to draw the Pakistani Taliban into peace talks. But that effort has all but collapsed in recent weeks.
Moreover, an audacious Taliban assault on the Karachi airport on Sunday, resulting in 36 deaths, bolstered public support for a military operation.
But in the days since the Karachi attack, military officials have hinted that plans are underway for a major operation, mostly likely in Waziristan. And the collapse in peace talks with the Taliban forced even Sharif’s political rival Imran Khan to concede, some weeks earlier, that force should be used against militants who refuse to lay down their weapons.
The Pakistani Taliban presented the Karachi airport assault as a joint operation with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has firmly established itself in the jihadi firmament of Waziristan since September 2011. Pakistani officials said that at least three Uzbek fighters died in the CIA strike Wednesday night.