US missiles kill Pakistan militants
US drone-fired missiles hit a house in Pakistan's north-west tribal region, killing five suspected militants, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.
The strike occurred in a village near Mir Ali, one of the main towns in North Waziristan, a tribal area dominated by powerful militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is believed to have a non-aggression pact with the Pakistani military. It was the seventh such attack in less than two weeks.
North Waziristan is next to the Afghan border and is the main militant sanctuary in Pakistan. The US has repeatedly pushed Pakistan to launch a military offensive in the area, but Islamabad has refused, saying its troops are stretched too thin fighting domestic militants who pose a threat to the state.
However, many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target Afghan Taliban militants with whom it has historical ties and who could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
Pakistan is also worried about potential backlash from militants who have so far directed their fight against coalition forces in Afghanistan rather than the Pakistani state.
The recent spate of strikes has been one of the most intense in the past two years, a period in which political tensions between the US and Pakistan led to a reduced number of attacks compared to 2010, when they were at their most frequent.
It is unclear whether the current upturn has been caused by particularly valuable intelligence obtained by the CIA, or whether the warming of relations between the two countries has made strikes less sensitive. Protests by the government and Islamic hardliners have been noticeably muted.
The US views drone attacks as a key weapon against Taliban and al Qaida militants out of its forces' reach in Pakistan's tribal region. But the attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan, posing a problem for the Pakistani government, which has played a double game in the past of denouncing the strikes in public while supporting some of them in private.
A drone attack on January 2 in neighbouring South Waziristan killed another commander, Maulvi Nazir, who also had a truce with the Pakistani army. His death could complicate the military's fight against Pakistani Taliban militants in the area who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for the past few years. The Pakistani and Afghan branches of the Taliban are allied but have focused their fights against different enemies.
US drone strikes have mainly focused on members of the Afghan Taliban and al Qaida but have also occasionally targeted the Pakistani Taliban. US missiles killed nine Pakistani Taliban fighters in South Waziristan on January 6. A drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, in South Waziristan in August 2009.