US drone strikes kill seven in Pakistan Taliban stronghold

Two US drone attacks killed seven in a Pakistan Taliban stronghold Wednesday, although militants elsewhere continued to inflict their own casualties by killing five Pakistani police at a security checkpoint.

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Two US drone attacks killed at least seven fighters in a Taliban stronghold in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday. In a separate province, militants attacked a security checkpoint, killing five Pakistani policemen.

The drone strikes come as the US has stepped up aerial attacks in Pakistan’s tribal regions since the bombing of a CIA base killed seven Americans in December. Drone attacks in Pakistan have also steadily increased during the Obama administration, soaring 47 percent during his first year in the White House.

Wednesday’s airstrikes were in North Waziristan, known to be a Taliban stronghold in the country’s restive northwestern tribal region. Agence France-Presse reports that the missiles hit the villages of Hamzoni and Myzer Madhakhel, killing at least seven insurgents total, though it was not known whether any of them were high-level fighters. (Click here to see a map.)

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Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports that the men killed were fighters for Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Taliban leader whose forces fight against coalition solders in Afghanistan. Dawn also reports that the militants killed were foreign.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported in a briefing on drones last year, the US airstrikes are deeply unpopular with Pakistan’s public, partly because of the many civilian casualties they have caused, and have ignited resentment both against the US and against Pakistan for allowing the US to launch the attacks. Pakistan publicly denounces the attacks, but in reality has cooperated with the US.

Despite the public backlash, the US considers drone strikes an effective tool against militants. Several top Taliban leaders have been killed in drone strikes in the past seven months. The Monitor reported Monday that the recent onslaught of strikes, together with Pakistan’s offensive against the Taliban, has driven the group underground and in some cases created fractures within it:

The Taliban themselves admit they fear the drones not just as dealers of death but also of dissension.

"Drone attacks have created a rift in the Taliban ranks as people are suspecting each other of spying," says a member of a Taliban faction that split from the main group after death of Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of the Pakistan Taliban. The militant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says that such suspicions have led to fratricide within the group.

But the Taliban was not weakened enough to prevent it from launching attacks in Lahore and the northwest last week that killed at least 70 people, and threatened to continue those suicide attacks as long as the drone strikes continue.

In a separate incident in northwest Pakistan Wednesday, militants attacked a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Peshawar, on the border with the Khyber tribal region, reports the BBC. More than a dozen militants launched the attack, which killed five policemen. The BBC reports that attacks on the checkpoint were common, though they have declined in number in the past year.

Agence France-Presse reported that no group had taken responsibility for the attack, although a senior police official blamed Lashkar-e-Islam, a group with ties to the Taliban. AFP also reports that militants in Khyber blew up a truck carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan. No one was killed in the attack.

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