A suspected U.S. drone has carried out a rare missile attack outside Pakistan's northwestern militant-dominated region, killing among others, a senior fugitive commander of the Afghan insurgency. Local officials have confirmed at least six deaths in the attack and there are children among those wounded. The head of the regional ruling party has vowed that his supporters will block NATO supplies on Saturday to protest U.S. drones.
The pre-dawn drone attack in the district of Hangu targeted an Islamic seminary where some members of the Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents were said to be present.
The strike destroyed the facility, called a madrassa in local language, and the video footage on Pakistani TV stations showed the place was littered with shoes and pools of blood.
One of the men killed is identified as Maulvi Ahmad Jan believed to be a senior adviser to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the chief of what U.S. officials describe as the most feared Afghan group battling foreign troops in Afghanistan along side the Taliban.
CIA-run drones have targeted militants and their sanctuaries in Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal region but Thursday's missile strike was only the second to have taken place deep inside the country's urban population and is likely to raise tensions between Islamabad and Washington. The previous drone attack also took place in a neighboring Bannu district in 2008.
The latest strike has outraged federal and provincial authorities. Imran Khan, the leader of the party ruling Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has alleged children were also among the victims. Speaking to VOA, Khan feared there will be more revenge attacks inside Pakistan because of the American action.
"The lame excuse is that these were suspected militants or people who were training suicide attackers. The point is that there is going to now revenge attacks. The revenge attacks will be on Pakistanis. So, these were Pakistanis killed the revenge will be on Pakistani soldiers, on our security forces," he said.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province serves as a major route for supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Khan said that his supporters would hold a massive rally on Saturday in the provincial capital to protest drone strikes.
"We are going to block the NATO supply line from Pakhtunkhwa until we are given an assurity that there will be no drone attacks," he said.
Pakistan's foreign ministry protested the strike, condemning it as a violation of the country's territorial sovereignty and reiterating that such actions damage its efforts to control militants.
While it is widely believed that the United States has carried out some drone strikes with covert support from Pakistani authorities, Islamabad has recently stepped up its opposition to the operations.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington last month, urged the American leader to end drone strikes in Pakistan. However, U.S. officials insisted drones have become an effective counterterrorism tool.
A drone attack earlier this month killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, who was blamed for killing of thousands of people, including Pakistani security forces. The dead militant was also blamed for facilitating attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.
However, leaders in Islamabad said that attack had destroyed government-sponsored efforts to engage the Islamist insurgents in peace talks because it happened just hours before the peace process was to begin.