LONDON — A US drone struck a militant compound in Pakistan’s tribal belt for the second time in 12 hours Thursday, killing at least 10 suspected members of the Haqqani network in a suddenly intense resurgence of the controversial CIA offensive in Pakistan.
The US drone strikes, after an almost six-month lull in the operations while Pakistani officials tried and failed to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, come as Pakistan is considering a new offensive of its own against militants in the northwestern tribal belt. But early news reports Thursday offered conflicting comments about whether the Pakistani authorities might have approved the drone strikes or were working in tandem with the United States — a politically caustic idea in a country where the CIA program is widely hated.
The strikes, both of which were reported to have killed Haqqani operatives, also came two weeks after the release of the US soldier Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a Haqqani hostage for five years. A former US military commander has suggested that Bergdahl’s safety now would give more freedom to strike at the Haqqanis, who are fighting to overthrow the US-backed civilian government in Afghanistan.
Pakistani security officials said Thursday that a CIA drone had fired six missiles at the compound four miles north of Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. The attack, which occurred just after 2 a.m. Thursday, targeted a building and an explosives-laden truck parked outside, they said.
Seven hours earlier, a US attack on the same compound had killed at least four people. Initial reports from that attack described the dead as mostly ethnic Uzbek fighters, but the second strike appeared to have been aimed squarely at the Haqqani militants.
The Haqqani group, headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, has staged numerous attacks on US and Afghan security forces, as well as hotels and embassies in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The group’s strength derives in part from its sanctuary in North Waziristan, where it is believed to have held Bergdahl for much of his five years in captivity, until his release May 31 in exchange for five Taliban commanders held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The Wednesday and Thursday attacks marked a resumption of the US drone program in Pakistan’s tribal belt following a nearly six-month hiatus. The last known CIA strike inside Pakistan occurred Dec. 25.
US drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan and are usually met with vehement criticism from the government, which Thursday issued a pro forma statement that condemned both attacks as a “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Still, the strike received no mention from lawmakers in national assembly proceedings Thursday.
In private, some Pakistani officials say they support drone strikes when they suit Pakistan’s self-interest. On Thursday, Reuters quoted two unnamed Pakistani government officials who described the latest strikes as a “joint Pakistan-US operation” that, they said, had the “express approval” of the Pakistani government.
But a senior Pakistani security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, insisted that the action did not have prior Pakistani approval.
The lull in CIA strikes coincided with an effort by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to draw the Pakistani Taliban into peace talks. But that effort collapsed in recent weeks, undercut by tensions between Sharif and the military leadership and by a leadership split in the Taliban ranks.
Moreover, a Taliban assault on Karachi airport Sunday, resulting in 36 deaths, bolstered support for a military operation. Any military operation is a political risk for Sharif, who fears a violent backlash in his home province, Punjab.