DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan, (Reuters) – A suspected U.S. drone fired a missile on Thursday into Pakistani territory on the Afghan border, killing at least one militant, intelligence agency officials said.
U.S. officials say al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban militants operate out of safe havens in northwest Pakistan, training for an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan that has helped make that country deadlier now than Iraq for U.S. troops.
U.S. impatience has been growing over what Washington sees as Pakistan’s failure to eliminate the militant threat from their sanctuaries in remote ethnic Pashtun regions.
U.S.-operated pilotless aircraft have stepped up strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of September, firing missiles at suspected militants 11 times and killing dozens of people, most of them militants, Pakistani security officials have said.
On Thursday, at least one missile hit a house in the village of Sam in South Waziristan, in an area known as a stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud, head of Pakistani Taliban militants.
“We have confirmation of one militant dead and two wounded have been retrieved from the debris,” said an intelligence official who declined to be identified, adding the death toll could rise.
Another intelligence agency official said five militants had been killed.
“Guests were staying there,” said the second intelligence official, using a term commonly used to refer to foreign militants.
Pakistani military spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
The second intelligence official said two missiles were fired. A resident of Sam said by telephone two big explosions had shaken the village.
The first intelligence official said militants had cordoned off the area and were not letting anyone approach.
Cross-border strikes by U.S. forces, in particular a Sept. 3 raid by U.S. commandos on a Pakistani village, have angered Pakistan and led to calls from opposition politicians for an end to help for the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.
Pakistan rules out foreign military strikes on its territory, saying they not only violate its sovereignty but are counter-productive, increasing support for militants in a country where many people oppose backing for the United States.
Top U.S. officials have vowed to respect Pakistani sovereignty but have declined to rule out more strikes.
The Pakistani military began offensives in August against al Qaeda militants and Taliban fighters in two parts of the northwest, although not in Waziristan.
More than 1,100 militants have been killed, the military says, although there has been no independent confirmation of its casualty estimates.
The militants have responded with suicide bomb attacks, including one on a top hotel in Islamabad last month that killed 55 people.
The surge in violence has alarmed Pakistan’s Western allies, who are worried about stability in their nuclear-armed ally which is grappling with serious economic problems and seeking billions of dollars in external support.
The government, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to root out militancy and stop Pakistan being used as a base for attacks on other countries.
Parliament has been holding a closed session on security this week in an attempt to forge a consensus on policy.
The government has said it is willing to negotiate with militants who lay down their arms and a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban told the BBC this week the Taliban were ready for talks if the government stopped the offensives.