National News

After lull, US drone strikes kill 13 in Pakistan

By Asif Shahzad And Rebecca Santana, The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD - Missiles from U.S. drones slammed into militant hideouts overnight in northwestern Pakistan, killing 13 suspected insurgents and marking the resumption of the CIA-led program after a nearly six-month break, officials said Thursday.

The two separate drone strikes sparked swift condemnation by the Pakistani government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the strikes, are a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In the first strike, which came late Wednesday, a suspected American drone fired two missiles at a militant hideout in the North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border, killing three militants.

Then, early Thursday a suspected U.S. missile strike targeted another militant compound in North Waziristan, killing at least 10 people, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

Pakistan's northwest, particularly North Waziristan, is home to numerous militant groups — both local and al-Qaida-linked foreign groups — who often work together, sharing fighters, money or expertise.

There was no immediate information on the identities of those killed in the strikes but the two intelligence officials who gave information about the strike said the area is dominated by the Haqqani network, and most of those killed are believed to have belonged to the organization.

"We have also been hearing some names coming from our field agents, but we don't have any confirmation so far," said one of the officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Haqqani network is believed to carry out operations against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from bases in North Waziristan and is considered one of the more lethal groups operating in Afghanistan.

Due to stricter rules on the use of drones, diplomatic sensitivities and the changing nature of the al-Qaida threat, the number of American drone strikes had dwindled. The ones Wednesday and Thursday were the first since Christmas, and even before that, the number of strikes every year had been steadily dropping.

The Pakistani government and military are believed to have supported the drone strikes to a degree in the past but in recent years have become more vocal in their opposition. The strikes are extremely controversial in Pakistan where many people consider them a violation of the country's sovereignty.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court on Thursday struck down a government order barring former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who faces treason charges, from leaving the country. The ex-president's court victory, though, was tempered because the government can still appeal.

The ruling by the Karachi court could pave the way for the man who ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade to leave the country after an embarrassing trial that saw him become the first chief of army staff to face treason charges.

It also puts the Pakistani government, whose decision to push for Musharraf's trial put it at odds with the powerful military, in a tricky position where it must decide whether it wants to further anger the military by trying to keep Musharraf from leaving the country.

Under the Karachi court ruling, the government has 15 days to appeal the decision. This means Musharraf can't leave Pakistan immediately. The court gave no reason for striking Musharraf's name from the exit control list, which prevents people from leaving the country, usually in legal cases.

The 70-year-old Musharraf took power in a 1999 and then stepped down in 2008. He later left the country, but returned to Pakistan in March 2013, hoping for a political comeback.

Instead, he got embroiled in court cases, including the treason charges which are connected to his decision in 2007 to declare a state of emergency and detain senior judges, including the chief justice.

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Associated Press writer Adil Jawad in Karachi contributed to this report.

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal

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