Drone Attack Reported to Kill Scores in Northwest Pakistan
By SALMAN MASOOD
Published: March 17, 2011
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Drone aircraft heavily pounded the semiautonomous tribal region of North Waziristan in northwest Pakistan with missiles on Thursday, killing at least 40 people, according to news agencies and local media reports. A local television news network put the number of dead at 80.
The attack by drone aircraft, suspected of being operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, came a day after the United States secured the release of an American intelligence contractor jailed for the killing of two Pakistanis after paying compensation to the families of the victims.
Several missiles struck Datta Khel on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where Taliban and Qaeda fighters have found a safe haven to stage attacks inside Afghanistan. A local warlord and Taliban commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, holds sway in Datta Khel, and reports suggested that the drones had targeted a gathering of fighters loyal to him.
Attacks by the American drones are immensely unpopular in Pakistan and have been a rallying point for anti-American sentiment. At the same time, top Pakistani civil and military leadership have privately acknowledged the benefit of these strikes in targeting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Many in Pakistan saw a link between the stepped-up drone strikes and the release of Raymond A. Davis, the C.I.A. contractor who managed to get out of the country Wednesday after weeks of secret negotiations between American and Pakistani officials.
“The timing of such a heavy attack, in terms of number of missiles fired, is unlikely to be a coincidence, following the departure of Raymond Davis from Pakistan,” said Omar R. Quraishi, the editorial page editor of The Express Tribune, a Karachi-based English daily (a local partner of The International Herald Tribune). “It could well be that either the U.S. was holding back till this issue was sorted out, or that the C.I.A. may have been told to reduce its physical presence in Pakistan in exchange for greater leeway on drone attacks.”