At least eight alleged militants were killed on Tuesday in two daylight U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas, officials said, taking the death toll to 21 after four strikes in three days.
The unusual flurry of attacks could be linked to intelligence regarding a high-value target, analysts say, though none of the casualties so far have been named. The latest strike targeted a home in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, where the Pakistani military has been waging Operation Zarb-e-Azb since June.
“The drone fired two missiles, killing three people and injuring five. They were Uzbeks,” said a security official, adding it took place at 2:30 p.m. A government official confirmed the casualties and said the strike occurred as the militants were holding a meeting.
An earlier strike targeted a home in the Shawal district of neighboring South Waziristan, killing five, according to two security officials. “A U.S. drone fired three missiles targeting a house, killing five militants,” one of them told AFP.
The death toll from a drone strike in the same area on Monday was eight, while another attack the previous day killed five militants, authorities have said.
Talat Masood, a retired general and security analyst, said the frequency of strikes was unusually high. “The frequency is higher than it has been in the past. It seems they are trying to target something very important as far as they are concerned. They seem to be focusing on him or that group,” he said.
The semi-autonomous tribal region has for years been a hideout for Islamist militants of all stripes, including Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as well as foreign fighters such as Uzbeks and Uighurs. Washington pressed Islamabad for years to wipe out sanctuaries in North Waziristan, which militants have used to launch attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani military launched a major anti-militant offensive in North Waziristan in June and say they have killed more than 1,000 militants so far, with 86 soldiers losing their lives in the operation. The area is off-limits to journalists, making it impossible to verify the number and identify the dead independently.
Pakistan routinely protests against U.S. drone strikes, which have been targeting militants in the tribal areas since 2004, saying they violate its sovereignty and are counterproductive in the fight against terror. But most analysts believe the resumption of the drone program after it was suspended is evidence of collusion between the two countries. The Islamabad government and military officials strongly deny this.