By Zulfiqar Ali and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A U.S. drone aircraft struck suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas Wednesday, breaking a five-month pause in the attacks, Pakistani security officials said.
Officials said the unmanned aircraft fired two missiles, hitting a car and a house in the North Waziristan tribal area Wednesday evening.
It marked the first strike by the CIA-run U.S. drone program in Pakistan since Christmas, according to the independent New America Foundation, which tracks the incidents. The strikes, which peaked at well over 100 in 2010, have dramatically decreased due to Pakistani opposition and tighter Obama administration guidelines on their use.
The strike came less than two weeks after U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban in North Waziristan, was freed in a prisoner exchange. His release has raised the prospect that the U.S. might increase the pace of drone attacks against the Taliban and the Haqqani network, the allied militant group that held Bergdahl.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, former commander of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” earlier this week that U.S. officials used to fear that an operation against the Taliban or Haqqani network could result in Bergdahl’s death.
“We no longer have that concern they have this pawn they can play against us,” Mattis said.
Residents reached by telephone Wednesday night said that drone aircraft continued to hover over North Waziristan throughout the day. The missile strikes were heard some 15 miles away from the blast site in the village of Tabbi, said Muhammad Khalil, a resident of the town of Miramshah.
Four Uzbek nationals were reported killed, but that could not be independently verified.
Also Wednesday, an Uzbek militant group based in Pakistan’s tribal areas said it participated in a deadly raid on the airport in the Pakistani city of Karachi that left 36 people dead, including 10 assailants. The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant activity, said the claim was published on the website of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, one of many Islamist organizations operating in lawless northeast Pakistan, The Associated Press reported.
Pakistani officials had earlier said that some of the militants who participated in the Sunday night attack, which shocked the country and forced the closure of its largest air hub, were of Uzbek and Chechen origin.
AFP Photo/Asif Hassan