US drones in Pakistan kill at least 20 in barrage of attacks

US drones launched missiles into North Waziristan in Pakistan in a barrage of attacks Thursday and Friday. It was one of the largest such attacks in the controversial program the Obama administration has continued and intensified.

By , Correspondent

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    In this image obtained from the US Air Force, an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper from the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off on March 13, 2009, from Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan.
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A fleet of US predator drones fired a barrage of missiles inside Pakistan’s main Al Qaeda and Taliban stronghold on Thursday and Friday, killing at least 20 people in total. The third strike, on Friday, killed at least three militants. A top Al Qaeda operative and seven foreign militants were said to be among Thursday's dead.

The missile barrage that began Thursday constitutes one of the single largest such strikes since the Obama administration opted to continue – and intensify – a controversial program initiated by the Bush administration. And it comes amid sharply rising tensions between Washington and Islamabad over the use of the drones.

The Associated Press said Friday's drone attack shot three missiles at a home and killed at least three militants and injured two.

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Thursday’s strikes were significant for what they targeted: areas of North Waziristan belonging to Siraj Haqqani and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Taliban commanders believed responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has refused itself to target the areas under the control of the two men. The strikes may also signify that Washington, growing increasingly impatient with what it says is Pakistan’s lack of cooperation, is taking matters into its own hands.

The first strike Thursday killed two insurgents as they traveled in a vehicle in Dosali village, the Associated Press reports. In the second wave of the strikes, a cluster of five drones hovered over a militant compound and fired as many as 10 missiles, killing 15 people. The attack took place in the village of Degan, an area that has come under attack from drones before and that is located near the North Waziristan capital of Miran Shah, according to The New York Times.

The surrounding areas are considered a viper’s nest of local and foreign militants. Mr. Haqqani and Mr. Bahadur, who both command thousands of Taliban foot soldiers, use the territory to stage attacks against US-led troops in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda operatives are believed to use it as a staging ground as well. On Friday, Pakistani officials claimed that Zohaib al-Zahidi, an Arab Al-Qaeda commander, was among Thursday's dead, the New York Times adds.

The US had earlier asked the Pakistani military to expand its current military campaign in South Waziristan to include the lawless frontier controlled by Haqqani, Bahadur and their militant allies. The Pakistani government not only refused, but cut a deal whereby Bahadur and the Pakistani military agreed to stay out of each other’s way. The Pakistani army says the truce is essential to their success in South Waziristan, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Both Haqqani and Bahadur are alleged to receive support from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The Long War Journal reports that Pakistan’s military is divided over whether or not to severe those ties.

“Even if he wanted to moved against Haqqani, I think [the Commander of Pakistan’s armed forces] General [Ashfaq Pervez] Kiyani is concerned the move will spark the nationalist elements of the Army and ISI [the Inter-Services Intelligence] to side with the pro-Islamists, and spark a civil war within the military," said a senior US intelligence official contacted by The Long War Journal.

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