An American drone aircraft hit a militant compound in South Waziristan on Sunday night, killing 20 people, including two important local Taliban commanders known for their attacks against American soldiers in Afghanistan, a senior government official and a local resident said.
One of the dead commanders, Eida Khan, was wanted by the Americans for his cross-border attacks from bases in Waziristan, the government official said. The other commander, Wahweed Ullah, worked with Arabs who were part of Al Qaeda, the local resident said.
Mr. Ullah, in his late 20s, was known as an ideologically committed fighter who specialized in attacks against Americans in Afghanistan, the resident said.
The drone launched a missile attack on a compound in the village of Manduta, close to Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, about 20 miles from the border with Afghanistan.
Mr. Khan and Mr. Ullah, as well as two brothers of Mr. Khan, were affiliated with the militant network of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban figure with close connections to Al Qaeda, said the official and the local resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the matter.
The strike was part of an escalating campaign by the Bush administration to hit the Taliban and their Qaeda backers at their bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The attack appears to have been the 19th by a remotely piloted Predator aircraft in the tribal areas since the beginning of August. In the first seven months of 2008, there were five such strikes.
The Bush administration has intensified the drone attacks after backing away from using American commandos for ground raids into the tribal belt. A ground assault on Sept. 3 produced an angry public riposte from the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who said he would defend Pakistan’s borders “at all costs” against such intrusions, an unusually strong statement from one ally to another.
Speaking of which:
The decision to focus on an intensified Predator campaign using Hellfire missiles appears to reflect dwindling options on the part of the White House for striking a blow against Al Qaeda in the Bush administration’s waning days.
After months of debate within the administration and mounting frustration over Pakistan’s failure to carry out more aggressive counterterrorism operations, President Bush finally gave his approval in July for ground missions inside Pakistan.
But the only American ground mission known to have taken place was a Special Operations raid on Sept. 3, in which the roughly two dozen people killed included some civilians. American officials say there has not been another commando operation since.
American officials acknowledge that following the Sept. 3 raid they were surprised by the intensity of the Pakistani response, which included an unannounced visit to Washington, three weeks after the incursion, by the country’s national security adviser, Mahmud Ali Durrani. He registered his anger in person with top White House officials.
I am surprised by the fact that Bush administration officials were surprised, but their clueless-ness even at this late stage of the game knows no bounds. I don't know how it's possible to not know that if you launch a cross border attack into Pakistan, and kill civilians in the process, you are going to piss off a lot of people in Pakistan and the Pakistani government will find it necessary to have words with you about it. I for one am not opposed to strikes inside of Pakistan; Pakistan plays a dangerous game with the Taliban, alternately helping them or taking actions against them as suits their own interests, and they should be prepared that we will act to defend ours and Afghanistan's interests as targets inside Pakistan become available. But we play a dangerous game as well; defeating the Taliban requires turning many of the tribes of western Pakistan against the Taliban, a purpose we cannot possibly accomplish if we're busy blowing up civilians with missiles (or basically, putting our stamp on anything that happens in those areas, given how unpopular we are.)
If, like me, you think this requires the sort of delicate balancing of opportunity with caution that the Bush administration is utterly incapable of, well...you and I both are probably right.