Strikes in Pakistan Underscore Obama’s Options
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two missile attacks launched from remotely piloted American aircraft killed at least 15 people in western Pakistan on Friday. The strikes suggested that the use of drones to kill militants within Pakistan’s borders would continue under President Obama.
Remotely piloted Predator drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency have carried out more than 30 missile attacks since last summer against members of Al Qaeda and other terrorism suspects deep in their redoubts on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan.
But some of the attacks have also killed civilians, enraging Pakistanis and making it harder for the country’s shaky government to win support for its own military operations against Taliban guerrillas in the country’s lawless border region.
American officials in Washington said there were no immediate signs that the strikes on Friday had killed any senior Qaeda leaders. They said the attacks had dispelled for the moment any notion that Mr. Obama would rein in the Predator attacks.
Mr. Obama and his top national security aides are likely in the coming days to review other counterterrorism measures put in place by the Bush administration, American officials said.
These include orders President Bush secretly approved in July that for the first time allowed American Special Operations forces to carry out ground raids in Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government.
Friday’s missile attacks hit Waziristan, a remote and mountainous region controlled by the Taliban, in the semiautonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border.
The first struck a village known as Mir Ali in North Waziristan late in the afternoon. In a statement, Pakistani government officials said the attack destroyed the house of a man identified as Khalil Dawar and killed eight people. The statement said militants had surrounded the area and retrieved the bodies.
A senior Pakistani security official said four of those killed were Arabs. Pakistani intelligence officials often take the presence of foreign fighters as an indication of Qaeda involvement.
In the second attack, missiles struck a house near the village of Wana in South Waziristan, killing seven people, according to local accounts and Pakistani news reports. The reports said three of the dead were children.
American officials believe that the drone strikes have killed a number of suspected militants along the frontier since last year, including a senior Qaeda operative who was killed Jan. 1 and was suspected in the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad four months ago.
But the civilian toll has angered Pakistanis. A senior Pakistani official estimated that the attacks might have killed as many as 100 civilians; it was not possible to verify the estimate.
American and Pakistani officials are known to share some intelligence about militants, but it is unclear whether Pakistani officials have in any way acquiesced to the drone strikes or helped provide intelligence for them while opposing them in public. Openly supporting the attacks would be untenable for a government perceived as being too close to the American government.