At least three children and two women were reportedly killed “when missiles fired by a suspected unmanned U.S. aircraft hit a Pakistani tribal village Friday in the third such attack in as many days,” reported the AFP today. Several media outlets, including Dawn, BBC News, and Reuters cited an eyewitness, who said, “Two drones were flying in the area. They fired three missiles.” Reuters added, “An intelligence official said five militants were killed while another said the toll could rise. It was not immediately known if any senior Al Qaeda figures were among the casualties.”
As noted earlier, Friday’s attack would be the third attack in three days allegedly carried out by U.S. forces, “including an unprecedented ground assault allegedly carried out by American commandos,” noted BBC’s Barbara Plett in Islamabad. Yesterday, at least five people were killed in a missile strike in the village of Mohammad Khel near Miranshah. Officials reportedly said all five killed were “low-level militants of Arab origin.” On Wednesday, U.S.-led forces carried out a pre-dawn helicopter-borne ground assault on the village of Angor Adda in the nearby South Waziristan “in the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S.-led troops since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan,” reported Reuters. Officials have reported that 20 people, including women and children, were killed in the attack which sparked outrage in Pakistan. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was quoted saying, “It is a regrettable, shameful and astonishing incident. We strongly condemn the unprovoked attack by ISAF and coalition forces.” The AFP noted,
Security sources said a large demonstration was being planned in South Waziristan’s Wana district after Friday prayers to protest at the claimed U.S.-led raid, which involved helicopter gunships and ground troops.
There have been contradictory responses from the U.S. camp on Wednesday’s incident. Although the U.S. military has officially claimed no knowledge of such an incursion, Pentagon sources did confirm that U.S. commandoes carried out Wednesday’s raid. At the same time, the Bush administration is officially refusing to comment on the raid. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Thursday, “In regards to the reports about that incident, we have not commented, and I won’t today…I’m just not going to comment on the incident in any way.”
However, a Reuters piece entitled, “U.S. Raid May Signal More U.S. Attacks,” reported, “U.S. officials said activities in safe haven areas, such as recruiting and training, have become bolder over the past year while political turmoil in Pakistan led to diminished pressure on militants from the Pakistani military.” Dawn also cited U.S. senior officials who “warned that the United States might conduct similar raids in future as well if it had ‘actionable intelligence’ about the presence of Al Qaeda or Taliban commanders in a certain area.”
According to the LA Times, “Many within the Pentagon and among military officers in the region are skeptical about the value of increased U.S. operations in Pakistan. These officials believe that stepped-up operations risk a backlash and that a better approach would be to steadily press the Pakistani military to take on the extremists.” Nevertheless, the aforementioned statements and indications of further U.S. incursions on Pakistani soil are not only unsettling but will further impact negative perceptions of the United States in the country. The Times noted:
The frequency of U.S. raids in the future may depend on the Pakistani reaction. U.S. officials are monitoring both the public response and the private reaction from leaders of the fledgling Pakistani government. Some military officials considered the initial Pakistani response relatively restrained, although protests continued to build.
As the race to the U.S. presidency continues, it will also be interesting to see how Pakistanis will react to the new U.S. president come November, particularly because the Taliban will be a key challenge on their agenda. A new series by PBS Frontline, called iWitness, delved into this issue last week with reporter Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who underlined the major policy challenges the U.S. faces as anti-U.S. sentiment increases and more “hearts and minds of future generations are being won in Taliban-influenced religious schools,” [see Chinoy’s report here]. The U.S. must rethink a heavy military policy or future incursions in Pakistan, because they will only serve to further exacerbate these perceptions and in the long-term will be detrimental to U.S. national security.