U.S. drone attacks kill 10 militants in Pakistan
Islamabad • American drones fired a flurry of missiles in a Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan Sunday, killing a total of 10 suspected militants, Pakistani officials said.
In the first strike, missiles fired from unmanned American spy planes hit two vehicles near the Afghan border, killing at least seven militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The strike came in the Mana area of North Waziristan, the officials added.
The officials say the area is dominated by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a commander whose forces often strike U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but they did not know whether his men were the targets of Sundays' strike. A U.S. drone strike Saturday also in North Waziristan killed five Gul Bahadur allies.
About 10 hours later on Sunday, two missiles destroyed a home also in the Mana area, killing three militants, the officials said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The drone program is hotly contested in Pakistan.
Most Pakistanis feel the strikes violate the country's sovereignty and kill innocent civilians. The U.S. maintains they are directed against militants and necessary to combat groups like al-Qaida.
North Waziristan is one of the last tribal areas in northwestern Pakistan, where the military has yet to launch an operation to root out militants. The area has become a safe haven for fighters who use it as a base from which to attack American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has urged Pakistan repeatedly to conduct a military operation there, 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 yet to confirm this. The country has been reluctant to undertake an offensive there, saying its military is already overtaxed by fighting in other tribal areas and parts of Pakistan. Many in the U.S. believe Pakistan does not want to upset the many militant groups there that could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces leave.
The Pakistani Taliban militants who are holed up in North Waziristan have become a growing threat to the country. The group has carried out a bloody insurgency over the past five years that has killed over 30,000 people.
The government temporarily suspended cellphone service Sunday in Pakistan's two largest cities, Karachi and Lahore, because of intelligence reports that militants planned to use cellphones to detonate bombs, said Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Service was also suspended in parts of the city of Multan, he said.
The move caused angered residents, who had warning that the suspension was coming. It's unclear exactly what sparked the government to take such a drastic step, given that militants have used cellphones to detonate bombs for years.
The suspension is scheduled to be lifted at 11 a.m. local time on Monday.