published Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Officials: U.S. drone kills 4 militants in Pakistan

Drone tile
Drone tile
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A pair of suspected U.S. missiles fired from an unmanned aircraft killed four alleged militants early Wednesday near the Afghan border in Pakistan, intelligence officials said, the first drone strike since Pakistan’s nationwide elections earlier this month.

The strike was also the first since President Barack Obama’s speech last week on the controversial U.S. drone program and more restrictive rules he was implementing on their use in places such as Pakistan and Yemen.

Wednesday’s strike came in the North Waziristan tribal region, a stronghold for militants in the mountainous stretch of land bordering Afghanistan to the west. Pakistani intelligence officials said the missiles hit a house in the town of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said they suspected the house was being used by foreign militants but had no other details.

The tribal region is home to a variety of local and Afghan militant outfits, including al-Qaida-linked fighters. The U.S. has often criticized Pakistan, saying it does not vigorously target militants in these areas. Using their safe havens in Pakistan, militants are then targeting American troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials say their military is already overly overtaxed by fighting militants in both the northwestern tribal regions and in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and that the casualties they’ve already incurred battling militants have not been properly recognized.

Washington’s drone program is extremely unpopular in Pakistan, although the number of strikes has dropped significantly since the height of the program in 2010.

The country’s incoming prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly said he is against the use of American drones on Pakistani soil, and Pakistani officials have demanded publicly that the program be stopped.

Senior civilian and military officials are known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past, but that is no longer the case.

Pakistan has been hit by 355 such attacks since 2004, according to the New America Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank. The figure does not include Wednesday’s strike. Up to 3,336 people have died in the strikes, said the think tank.

Obama’s speech last Thursday was his most extensive comments to date about the secretive drone program, which has come under increased criticism for its lack of accountability.

The president cast drone strikes against Islamic militants as crucial to U.S. counterterrorism efforts but acknowledged that they are not a “cure-all.” The president also said he is deeply troubled by civilians unintentionally killed in the strikes and announced more restrictive rules governing the attacks — measures that his advisers said would effectively limit drone use in the future.

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