Islamabad • A missile launched from a U.S. drone struck a suspected militant hideout in a tribal region in northern Pakistan where allies of a powerful warlord were gathered Saturday, killing five of his supporters, Pakistani officials said.
The strike in North Waziristan against allies of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a militant commander whose forces frequently target U.S. and other NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan, comes amid speculation over whether Pakistan will launch an operation against militants in the tribal region.
The U.S. has pushed Pakistan repeatedly to take such a step and earlier this week U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told The Associated Press that Pakistan was preparing an operation targeting the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan.
Pakistan has been reluctant to undertake an offensive there, saying its military is already overtaxed by fighting in other tribal areas and parts of Pakistan. But many in the U.S. believe Pakistan does not want to upset the many militant groups there such as the Haqqani network that could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces leave.
On Thursday, the top U.S. commander in the region, Gen. James Mattis, met with Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
During the meeting the Pakistani general repeated his government’s stance that it would undertake an operation in North Waziristan only if it coincides with Pakistan’s interests and not in response to outside pressure, according to a military press release.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned the latest drone attack.
“Pakistan has consistently maintained that these attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and are in contravention of international law,” the ministry said in a statement.
Drone attacks are very unpopular in Pakistan, where they are seen as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians. The U.S. maintains the targeted strikes are directed against militants and necessary to combat groups like al-Qaida.
Some Uzbek foreign fighters were among the dead in Saturday’s strike, according to two Pakistan intelligence officials. Three people were also wounded, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Meanwhile, five security officials died during a suicide bombing on a checkpoint in southern Pakistan.
Spokesman Murtaza Baig said the attacker detonated his explosives early on Saturday after he was stopped at the checkpoint in a Quetta suburb. The killed troops were members of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps.
Baluchistan province and its capital, Quetta, have been the scene of an insurgency by Baluch nationalists who are demanding greater rights and share from the income generated from gas and minerals extracted from the province. Various Baluch groups are blamed for attacks on the province’s security forces and are suspected of targeting other ethnic groups in the region.
Islamist Taliban militants and the extremist group Lashker-e-Jhangvi are also active in the province.