ISLAMABAD — A U.S. drone leveled the home of an Afghan militant commander late Tuesday in the northwest Pakistani tribal region of North Waziristan, killing 17 people in the year’s deadliest strike to date.
The drone fired four missiles at the residential compound of Haji Sharif-ullah, a senior operative of the Haqqani network based in the Sirai Darpakhel neighborhood of Miranshah, the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan, according to residents and security officials based there. Sharif-ullah was not among the casualties.
The Haqqani network is a particularly virulent Afghan militant faction allied with the Taliban. It is based in North Waziristan and launches attacks from there and neighboring Pakistani tribal areas bordering eastern Afghan provinces.
The Tuesday night drone attack was the third against targets in North Waziristan since a May general election won by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry reacted mildly Wednesday to the latest strike, reiterating Sharif’s stance that drone attacks were not conducive to Islamabad’s efforts to persuade the Afghan Taliban and its allies to participate in peace talks.
The previous two drone strikes had eliminated insurgents of the self-described Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including its deputy chief, Waliur Rehman, and effectively scuttled Sharif’s plans to hold exploratory peace talks. He reacted last month by announcing he had ordered an end to Pakistan’s previous policy of publicly condemning drone strikes as violations of its sovereignty that cause civilian deaths while its military has been complicit with the CIA.
U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy in April provided the first official confirmation that the CIA and the Pakistani military’s Inter Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, have run joint operations involving drones.
The latest strike came hours after a meeting Tuesday in Islamabad between Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the commander of international security forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.
A brief statement issued by Pakistan’s military described the meeting as routine and said it focused primarily on coordination on the border with Afghanistan.
But it was unclear whether Tuesday’s strike would have had the approval of the Pakistani military. Since 2006, the Pakistani military has used the Haqqani network to act as interlocutor and guarantor of peace pacts with Afghan insurgents based in the two Waziristan tribal areas. That has since 2009 enabled the military to launch successful operations there against the TTP, because local tribesmen affiliated with the network did not get involved.
The network’s presence in North Waziristan has long been a source of tension between the United States and Pakistan, with Washington only grudgingly accepting Islamabad’s claim that it cannot target the network, at least for now, because its forces are tied up with operations against Pakistani Taliban insurgents elsewhere.
Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.