A suspected US drone attack on a house in northwestern Pakistan killed two militants from the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network, two Pakistani security officials said.
Two missiles hit a house and killed militants Ahsan Khorai and Nasir Mehmood in the village of Dapa Mamozai in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), according to a police officer and an intelligence official. “Two militants from Haqqani network were killed in the drone attack,” the intelligence official based in the area said.
There has been a slight uptick in U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan in the mountainous border regions bordering Afghanistan since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, though they are a long way off their peak in 2010. Earlier this month, one man was severely wounded in a suspected drone attack in FATA, while another Haqqani militant was killed on Dec. 26 in a suspected U.S. drone strike inside Pakistan.
Trump has taken a hardline stance on Pakistan, which he says provides safe haven to high-level commanders from the Haqqani network, a group which often conducts deadly attacks in Afghanistan. Relations between Washington and Islamabad have frayed over the past month in the wake of Trump’s angry tweet on Jan. 1 about Pakistan’s “lies and deceit” over its alleged support for the Afghan Taliban and their allies. The United States this month also suspended military assistance worth about $2 billion.
Islamabad denies sheltering militants and accuses Washington of not respecting Pakistan’s vast sacrifices in the war on militancy. Over the past decade, almost all U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan have taken place within FATA, but some Pakistani officials fear the United States under Trump will begin carrying out strikes outside the tribal areas.
Pakistan condemns ‘unilateral’ US drone strike
Pakistan on Wednesday condemned a US drone strike deep inside its territory targeting an Afghan refugee camp and warned Washington that such ‘unilateral’ steps would be detrimental to cooperation between the two countries in fight against terrorism.
This was the first US drone strike inside Pakistani territory over the past 19 months, the Foreign Office confirmed, as none of the over one dozen attacks by the unmanned vehicle reported in the media during this period had drawn official condemnation from Pakistan’s FO. “Pakistan condemns a drone strike in Kurram Agency carried out by the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) this [Wednesday] morning, which targeted an Afghan refugee camp,” the FO statement said.
Two killed in pre-dawn attack on Afghan refugee camp in Kurram Agency: Area residents told Dawn that an unmanned plane fired missiles on a mud house in Spin Thall near the garrison town of Thall, killing two men namely Ihsanullah and Nasir Mehmood. While locals said this was the third drone strike in Spin Thall in recent months, this was perhaps the first condemnation by the FO after the killing of Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour by a drone in Balochistan in May 22, 2016.
Most of the over dozen drone strikes reported since then took place in Kurram Agency, which is alleged to be the new base of the Haqqani network after being dislodged from North Waziristan due to the Pakistan military operation, Zarb-i-Azb. Drone strikes had generally declined after the peak in 2010 with 117 hits. The absence of official condemnation over the past year and a half was not the result of any policy shift, but because there was no confirmation of the strikes, a security official explained.
Relations with the US have been on a downslide since the announcement of the new South Asia and Afghanistan policy by President Trump. Last month in a report on Afghanistan, Pentagon had stated that a range of tools including “unilateral steps in areas of divergence” would be employed to induce the required change. The US also suspended security assistance for Pakistan as a follow-up to Mr Trump’s New Year tweet accusing Islamabad of “lies and deceit”.
Just a day back Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had told journalists that Pakistan had all options, including both diplomatic and military responses, available for responding to any violation of its sovereignty. He had also underscored that there was no justification for any unilateral action. Following the drone strike, the FO said such unilateral actions were detrimental to the spirit of cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism. “Pakistan has continued to emphasise to the US the importance of sharing actionable intelligence so that appropriate action is taken against terrorists by our forces within our territory”. The FO, moreover, reminded the US that Pakistan had long been pushing for early repatriation of Afghan refugees among whom Afghan terrorists might have “melted and morphed”. The latest strike is reported to have taken place at a house belonging to Afghan refugees.
A resident told Dawn that the mud house that came under attack was built on a hillock. He said that Afghan nationals had presence in the area. Extensive movement of drones had been reported from Kurram Agency adjacent to the Orakzai Agency. “Drones continuously fly over Kurram valley all the night that disturb our sleep,” said a resident of Parachinar, the Kurram administrative headquarters. The last drone strike was reported in the Badshah Kot area of Kurram on January 17 in which an Afghan national received injuries.
Deputy Superintendent Police of Thall Shaukat Bukhari confirmed the latest drone strike though the political administration of Orakzai did not comment. Locals told Dawn that two bodies were taken away for burial following the pre-dawn strike. Sources said that over 50 people had been killed in seven drone strikes in Kurram Agency and Orakzai Agency so far. Mostly Ghuzgarhi, a hamlet near the Afghan border in Kurram Agency, bore the brunt of the drone strikes.