In the first such strikes since the inauguration of President Obama, suspected U.S. missile barrages Friday killed at least 18 people in the lawless tribal region near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said.
The two raids suggested that the new administration intends to press ahead with attacks against militants in the rural areas, even though the campaign has been politically costly to Pakistan’s Western-leaning government.
Obama indicated during his campaign that he would continue to carry out strikes against “high-value” Al Qaeda and Taliban targets on Pakistani soil, particularly if the Pakistani military were unable or unwilling to act. That declaration ruffled some feathers in Pakistan, where the U.S. raids are extremely unpopular.
Although Pakistani leaders have repeatedly lodged formal objections to the airstrikes, the government is widely believed to have given tacit permission to U.S. forces to carry out such raids -- as long as they do not involve sending ground forces into Pakistani territory.
Pakistani news reports cited security officials as saying that at least five of those killed in Friday’s strikes in the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies -- long known as a haven for Al Qaeda and the Taliban -- were militants. Dozens of such raids have been carried out in the last six months by the Bush administration, killing several important Al Qaeda-linked figures. But scores of Pakistani civilians, including women and children, also have died, according to local officials.
The first of Friday’s attacks was on the North Waziristan village of Zharki, where missiles hit at least two structures, security officials said. A short time later, another strike was reported in South Waziristan.
The American military in Afghanistan refused to comment on the raids, but U.S. forces are known to operate Predator drones from bases on the Afghan side, together with newer Reaper aircraft.
In a sign of simmering anti-government and anti-U.S. sentiment, hundreds of people staged a demonstration here in the Pakistani capital Friday, demanding a severing of ties with the United States.
Also Friday, new violence hit northwestern Pakistan, where Taliban insurgents have pushed beyond the tribal areas to menace civilians and government troops alike. Two Pakistani soldiers and three civilians were reported killed in bombings in the Swat Valley, a onetime tourist area north of Islamabad where Taliban militants hold sway despite months of government efforts to dislodge them.