July 19, 2014 / 7:33 AM / 4 years ago

Drone strike kills 11 militants in northwest Pakistan

BANNU Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike in volatile northwestern Pakistan killed 11 militants on Saturday, a Taliban commander and security officials said, as Pakistani security forces press ahead with an offensive in a Taliban stronghold near the Afghan border.

Two missiles slammed into a house in the village of Doga Madakhel of the Datta Khel area in the border region of North Waziristan, intelligence officials said. A Taliban commander told Reuters members of the Punjabi Taliban and Uzbek fighters were killed.

Drone strikes in Pakistan resumed in June after a hiatus of six months, during which the Pakistani government pursued peace talks with the Taliban. Pakistan announced an anti-Taliban offensive in North Waziristan within days of the resumption.

The United States has long urged Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban stronghold in remote, mountainous North Waziristan. The Taliban use the region to prepare bombs, hold kidnap victims, stage public executions, and as a launching pad for attacks on Afghan and NATO troops across the border.

The military ordered the entire civilian population of North Waziristan to leave before launching the ground offensive but residents said most of the militants also moved out.

Many have likely gone into hiding in Afghanistan or elsewhere in Pakistan, including thickly forested valleys further south.

The Pakistani military insists the offensive is aimed at all militant groups, breaking a long tradition of tolerating those that did not target the Pakistani state.

However, no one has been reported killed from the Haqqani network, an insurgent group that U.S. officials say is close to Pakistani intelligence and responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan.

U.S. lawmakers have said Pakistan will have to prove it is cracking down on the Haqqanis or have $300 million sliced off its military aid package.

On Thursday, U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, told the U.S. Congress the operation had disrupted but not destroyed the Haqqani network.

Datta Khel is controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Taliban commander who is considered friendly to Pakistani forces but supports attacks in Afghanistan. He announced a ceasefire against Pakistani troops after they said they would clear North Waziristan of Taliban fighters.

One tribal elder from the area said that may be why drone strikes, not Pakistani troops, were being used there.

Before Saturday’s attack, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks drone strikes using media reports, said at least 35 people had been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan since they restarted in June.

Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Paul Tait

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