PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Suspected U.S. missiles slammed into a compound near the Afghanistan border Saturday, killing about 30 people, local officials said. Most of the people killed were thought to be militants linked to the Taliban or al-Qaida.
The raid came two days after U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, perhaps inadvertently, made the first public disclosure by a senior U.S. official that the CIA-operated drones used in such attacks are flown from bases inside Pakistan, not from across the border in Afghanistan.
The missile attacks have been problematic for Pakistan’s struggling civilian government. The Pakistani leadership is thought to have given a go-ahead for the raids, although it publicly decries them.
The wrecked compound belonged to an associate of Baitullah Mahsud, the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban movement, and was not far from Mahsud’s own headquarters. But he was not believed to have been at the compound, and it was unclear whether he was the intended target.
About a dozen people were reported to have been injured in the raid near Wana, the main town in the restive South Waziristan tribal region. The area is considered a militant stronghold, and has been hit repeatedly in an intense campaign of American strikes using pilotless drones.
Local sources said the dead included Arabs and Uzbeks; generally, the presence of foreign militants is a sign of links to al-Qaida.
The comments about the Predator strikes last week by Feinstein, a California Democrat, could inflame domestic anger against the Pakistani government. At a Senate hearing Thursday attended by Dennis Blair, the director of U.S. national intelligence, Feinstein said: “As I understand, these (drones) are flown out of a Pakistani base.”
Friday is the Muslim Sabbath, and the remarks were not widely reported in the Pakistani media until Saturday, when they generated headlines.
Blair did not directly address the senator’s assertion. But he and other senior U.S. officials have defended the missile strikes as an effective tool against al-Qaida, saying that several important figures have been killed in the raids.
The drone attacks also have killed scores of Pakistani civilians. And many people consider the strikes a violation of the country’s sovereignty.