Pakistani officials say a U.S. drone strike has killed four suspected militants in the country's northwest near the Afghan border. Intelligence sources say the missiles hit a vehicle driven by rebels on January 12 in the North Waziristan tribal region. This marks the second drone strike in the region this week. Late on January 10, U.S. missiles killed four suspected militants after hitting a compound near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.
U.S. officials confirmed that attack, the first of its kind since NATO helicopters mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border last November. The November attack worsened already strained U.S.-Pakistan relations and prompted Pakistan to block supply routes for NATO troops in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have denied that the recent drop-off in drone strikes has been deliberate.
But last month, a prominent U.S. newspaper said the Central Intelligence Agency had suspended drone strikes targeting low-ranking militants in Pakistan for six weeks to mend badly frayed relations with the South Asian nation. The Los Angeles Times quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying the CIA's “undeclared halt” in attacks was aimed at reversing a “sharp erosion of trust” between the two countries, following a series of deadly incidents, including the NATO attack in November.
A joint U.S.-NATO-Afghan investigation concluded that a series of errors — including botched communications — on both the NATO and Pakistani sides led to November's incident. Pakistan — which did not participate in the review — rejected the findings.
The killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers prompted Pakistan to block the Khyber and Chaman routes to Afghanistan for NATO. The closures have choked major supply lines for the 130,000-strong U.S.-led force in Afghanistan. It is unclear, if and when, Pakistan will reopen those routes, and NATO officials say they are transporting supplies through other countries and relying on stockpiles in Afghanistan to sustain operations.
Drone strikes in Pakistan are credited with killing dozens of of al-Qaida operatives and hundreds of low-ranking fighters since 2004. But they have infuriated many Pakistanis and complicated relations between Washington and Islamabad.