Massoud Hossaini / AP

Suspected US drone strikes hit Pakistan after hiatus

Attacks, which follow Karachi airport siege, were given ‘express approval,’ unnamed Pakistan officials say

Pakistani officials have publicly condemned a pair of suspected U.S. drone strikes that took place Wednesday and Thursday in the country’s north — the first such attacks in nearly six months. The latest incident left at least 10 dead.

Some reports suggest, however, that the strikes, which come less than a week after armed fighters launched a deadly attack on Pakistan's largest international airport, may have been part of a joint operation between the two governments.

The first drone strike took place Wednesday near Miranshah, the capital of the North Warizistan tribal region where Taliban fighters are believed to be holed up, killing six militants that included four Uzbeks, Pakistan military sources told Reuters.  

The second strike occurred a few hours later in the same area, leaving at least four militants dead, those sources said. 

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council, declined to comment when contacted by Al Jazeera about the twin drone attacks.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry released a statement Thursday, condemning “the two incidents of U.S. drones strikes” that constituted a “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

Yet two unnamed Pakistani government officials told Reuters the Pakistani government and army had given the U.S. “express approval” for the strikes. 

"If the reports coming out of Pakistan are correct, this looks like some kind of coordination mechanism has been set up, which is something that was discussed over the last few years but never fully achieved," said Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank.

“It could be also the U.S. way of helping the Pakistani military prepare for some kind of operation inside North Waziristan. We'll have to wait to see if that develops."

‘Take ownership’

Click for the latest analysis on drones

The same Pakistani officials, in light of the recent attacks on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, told Reuters that a “joint Pakistan-U.S. operation” was conducted to target insurgents. 

“We understand that drones will be an important part of our fight against the Taliban now,” one of the officials said.

If true, such a position on the Pakistani government's part would constitute "a massive change of policy," Nawaz said. 

Nevertheless, there has been no official confirmation — nor is there likely to be — from either the U.S. or Pakistani governments that the strikes were a joint operation.

While suspected U.S. drones strikes have been publicly opposed by Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has on multiple occasions called on the U.S. to halt such actions, some have privately admitted the government supports them.

But if the U.S. and Pakistan have come to a specific agreement on using drones against insurgents, Nawaz said they should "take full ownership for it." 

"If they have crafted a deal, I think it would make sense for them to say that it is a Pakistani strike using American assets," he said, adding, "I don’t think it will happen."

No ‘military solution’

The drone strikes follow the deadly hours-long siege launched by armed fighters on Jinnah airport in Karachi on Sunday, leaving 36 people dead, including the 10 suspected attackers. That attack was followed two days later by a second one launched by gunmen at a security post located outside the airport.

Talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban — which recently saw a leading faction split from the main organization — have collapsed many times, mainly over Taliban demands that the government withdraw all troops from tribal areas and impose Sharia law.

Ultimately, Nawaz said, drones strikes, which began in 2004, have not accomplished much and are at best a short-term solution to the problem. 

"This kind of militancy and insurgency doesn’t really have a military solution per se. The solution is to remove the political and economic and ideological underpinnings of the militancy, and there does not yet seem to be within Pakistan a clearly defined goal for a countrywide operation against militancy," he said. 

With wire services 

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