ISLAMABAD — A U.S. drone strike has killed the deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban along with several other senior militants. But authorities in Pakistan have criticized Wednesday’s attack as a violation of their national sovereignty and international law.
The early morning attack took place in the North Waziristan tribal district, which borders Afghanistan and is notorious for harboring al-Qaida-linked militants.
Residents and Pakistani officials say two missiles fired by a U.S. drone struck and completely destroyed a mud-built house near the region’s administrative center, Miranshah.
Local authorities believe those killed in the attack include Wali-ur-Rehman, deputy commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, which is waging a bloody insurgency in the country.
Former Pakistani army brigadier, Mehmood Shah, says if confirmed, the death of the Taliban commander is a major blow to the insurgents.
“I think with his [Rehman’s] elimination, TTP I think would be weakened," said Shah.
The United States offered a bounty of $5 million for information leading to Rehman’s location and Pakistani authorities had also placed a bounty of nearly $500,000 on his head.
Independent confirmation of casualties and damage caused by drone strikes is not possible because journalists and aid agencies cannot enter the tribal region without official permission.
U.S. drone attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan and as usual a Foreign Ministry statement has “expressed serious concerns” over the latest strike. It restated Islamabad’s opposition to the use of U.S. drone operations, saying they are counterproductive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and violate the principles of national sovereignty.
The latest strike comes as the newly elected government of Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif is set to take control in Pakistan. Persuading Washington to end drone attacks was among his top commitments in the lead-up to the May 11 polls. Soon after winning the elections, Mr. Sharif also promised to engage in peace talks with the TTP to try to bring an end to the militancy.
Raza Rumi of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute says the latest drone attack is likely to put the incoming government under more pressure.
“The timing of this drone attack is rather unfortunate, you know, despite the high-value target. Definitely this target is well within the U.S. strategic aims in the region. But this would cause further discontent in Pakistan and outrage. In fact it may just cause further radicalization both in the region and Pakistan as whole, said Rumi.
Observers cite growing criticism around the world of drone operations, for a sharp decrease in such attacks in Pakistan this year. So far there have been only 12 drone attacks and U.S. President Barack Obama in a major speech on counterterrorism policy last Thursday indicated he was scaling back the program.