ISLAMABAD ‚?? U.S. drones fired missiles at three hideouts in a key militant sanctuary close to the Afghan border Friday, killing 18 suspected insurgents in the latest of a series of strikes conducted this week despite protests from Islamabad, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The strikes all took place in the North Waziristan tribal area, the target of a planned Pakistani military operation that the U.S. expects in the near future. Hundreds of militants and their family members have streamed out of North Waziristan in the past few days in anticipation of the operation, local residents said.
Washington has long demanded Pakistan target militants holed up in North Waziristan and has welcomed the planned operation in the area. But Islamabad is likely to focus on Taliban militants who have been at war with Pakistan, not those who have been fighting the U.S.-led coalition in neighboring Afghanistan.
In a string of strikes Friday just minutes apart, U.S. missiles slammed into mud brick compounds located several kilometers (miles) from each other in the Shawal Valley, a heavily forested, mountainous area in North Waziristan that serves as one of the key crossing points for militants heading into Afghanistan, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Eighteen suspected militants were killed and another 14 were wounded, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. It was not immediately clear which militant group was hit.
The U.S. has carried out seven drone strikes in the past week in North Waziristan, ignoring repeated Pakistani protests that they violate the country‚??s sovereignty and international law. Pakistan‚??s Foreign Ministry summoned a senior U.S. diplomat Thursday to protest the strikes, and the ministry‚??s spokesman, Moazzam Ahmad Khan, called the attacks ‚??illegal, unproductive‚?Ě during his weekly press briefing Friday.
But the reality behind the scenes is more nuanced ‚?? Pakistan secretly supported the strikes in the past, and U.S. officials say privately that key members of the government and military still do.