DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — The United States fired missiles at three suspected militant targets near the Afghan border Monday, killing 16 people and keeping the pressure on insurgents days after a strike was believed to have killed an al-Qaida commander, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The identities of the dead in the unusually intense volley of drone-fired strikes in the South Waziristan tribal region were not known. Several Arabs were said to be among the victims of one of them, according to the officials, who did not give their names in line with agency policy.
Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters remain in South Waziristan, despite a Pakistani army offensive launched there in 2009.
Since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 in northwest Pakistan, missile strikes have picked up pace from a relative lull in the year’s first half. But anger at the bin Laden operation, seen here as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, has led to fresh calls on Washington to stop the attacks.
Pakistani authorities said Sunday that they were increasingly sure that a Friday missile strike in South Waziristan killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a top al-Qaida commander rumored to be a longshot contender to replace bin Laden as the terror network’s chief.
Getting definitive confirmation about who died in the missile strikes is difficult, especially if no body is retrieved.
When asked about Kashmiri on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said “the U.S. has confirmed that he died,” but it was unclear if he was referring to private communications between the two governments. Publicly, at least, U.S. officials have not confirmed the death.
Kashmiri was wrongly said by Pakistani and American officials to have been killed in a missile strike in 2009. Pakistani officials declined to comment on whether they had assisted the U.S. in the Friday strike.
Before dawn, one set of missiles hit a compound in Wucha Dana village, killing seven people. The second set landed at about the same time at a Muslim seminary there, killing five people, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
They said several Arab men were believed to be among the dead.
Later Monday, missiles hit a vehicle traveling in Dra Nishter village elsewhere in the region, killing four, officials said.
Washington says the missiles have killed hundreds of militants, including several top al-Qaida commanders since they began in earnest in 2008. More than 30 have struck this year, compared to last year’s tally of about 130. Some experts question their legality and the secrecy under which they operate. Transparent investigations of alleged civilian casualties are not carried out.
Pakistani intelligence is believed to provide the U.S. with targeting information for at least some of the strikes. But its civilian and military leaders publicly protest the strikes and say they create more enemies than they kill. It would be politically toxic to acknowledge collaborating with the U.S. in attacks unpopular among many Pakistanis.
Also Monday, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a bomb that killed 18 people at a bakery in an army neighborhood in the northwest town of Nowshera the previous night. The militant group said the attack was vengeance for Pakistani army actions against them in the nearby Swat Valley.