US kills 6 suspected militants despite Pakistan's demand for end to drone attacks

The timing of the US drone attack, which reportedly killed six militants Wednesday in South Waziristan, is likely to strain an already fraught relationship with Pakistan.

Qazi Rauf/AP
Pakistani tribal families flee their villages, passing through the Khyber area, on Tuesday, April 12, in Pakistan. Violent clashes continue in Tirah Valley of tribal areas in Pakistan, which started eight days ago, when militants belonging to the Lashkar-e-Islam clashed with local Zakhakhel tribe killing many people.

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Two US drone strikes reportedly killed six suspected militants Wednesday in South Waziristan, a move that is likely to incense Pakistani officials who had just a day earlier disclosed their demand for a halt to all drone strikes.

It was the first drone attack since the March 17 strikes that killed up to 44 people, including a large number of civilians, CNN reported. The scale of that strike prompted unusually strong condemnation from Pakistani military officials.

A security official in South Waziristan told Reuters that two drones fired four missiles on a vehicle carrying militants. "We have confirmation of six [killed] but toll could be high," the official said.

The drone program has been controversial since it got under way almost seven years ago. Continuing it, even if it is a critical component of the US counterterrorism campaign, is likely to only exacerbate an already strained US-Pakistan relationship, highlighted by yesterday's demands for an end to drone strikes and a drawdown in the number of CIA and Special Forces operatives working in the country.

Pakistani opposition to the strikes rests on the fact that they are often carried out unilaterally, without first consulting Pakistani intelligence, and there is often "collateral damage" – i.e. civilian deaths – that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) says it could help the US avoid if it was consulted, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Gen. Ahmad Suja Pasha, head of the ISI, met with CIA Director Leon Panetta on Monday at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia to discuss how to repair the fraught relationship between the two intelligence agencies, brought to new lows by the Raymond Davis case.

Mr. Davis, a CIA contractor working in the country under the guise of being a low-level US embassy employee, shot and killed two Pakistani men who he claimed were trying to rob him. Davis is believed to have been in the country to gather information on the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistani officials said their demands on drones and US agents in the country were a direct result of the Davis case, reported The New York Times.

A Pakistani intelligence official told The Guardian that drone attacks have inflamed anti-US feeling in Pakistan so much that it is becoming difficult to justify the "war on terror" within its borders, which Pakistan began of its own volition in 2001.

"In the long term, it [the drone attacks] is completely counter-productive because it alienates the population and restricts our ability to shape our security environment," the official said, adding that Pakistan is now pushing back against US demands that they launch an offensive in North Waziristan.

"What do they [the US] want us to do? Declare war on our whole country?" the official said.

Although antidrone sentiment is on the rise, the attacks seem to be occurring at a much lower rate this year – the Los Angeles Times tallied 19 so far in 2011, compared with 117 last year.

The Los Angeles Times also reports that prior to the March 17 attack, Pakistan's military acknowledged the drones' effectiveness in combating the militants, saying that most of the people killed in the attacks were militants, not civilians.

Pakistan's recent demands are an attempt to see how much leverage they have with the US, Marvin Weinbaum, former Pakistan specialist for State Department intelligence, told the Monitor.

“Above all, what they’re annoyed about and motivated by is the sense that they don’t know what’s going on in their own country,” Mr. Weinbaum said. “If they’ve decided to play harder ball now, it’s because they feel they have some leverage to change a situation they don’t like.”

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