A U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at militants in Pakistan today, killing eight of them, Pakistani officials said, the third such attack since U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout.
The killing of the al Qaeda chief in a U.S. raid on May 2 has strained ties between Washington and Islamabad, with suspicion in the United States that Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding and Pakistan angered by a raid it saw as a violation of sovereignty.
The drone strikes also anger many Pakistanis and are a source of friction between the allies. Pakistan officially objects to the attacks although U.S. officials say they are carried out on an understanding with Pakistan.
A drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in the North Waziristan region that was heading toward the Afghan border, killing eight militants, the Pakistani officials said.
“At least four drones are still flying over the area,” said one of the officials, who declined to be identified.
The U.S. CIA regularly launches attacks with its pilotless aircraft at militants in Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal lands who cross into Afghanistan to battle Western forces there.
But the third such strike since bin Laden’s killing indicated an intensification of the attacks compared with the weeks before the Saudi-born militant was killed.
The U.S. raid on bin Laden’s compound has embarrassed and enraged Pakistan’s military and has added to already strained ties.
Pakistan rejects allegations that it was either incompetent in tracking down the man behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States or complicit in hiding him in the town of Abbottabad just 50 km (30 miles) from Islamabad.
Bin Laden’s killing has also led to domestic criticism of the government and military in Pakistan, over both the fact bin laden had been able to live in the country apparently undetected, and over the secret U.S. raid.
Opposition leader and former premier Nawaz Sharif accused the military’s powerful spy agency of negligence and incompetence.
Sharif, who heads the largest opposition party, rejected a government decision to put an army general in charge of the inquiry into intelligence lapses that led to bin Laden’s killing, calling instead for a judicial commission to dispel doubts about the objectivity of the investigation.
U.S. special forces swooped in on helicopters from Afghanistan undetected by Pakistani forces to kill bin Laden in his high-walled lair.
Sharif also demanded to know how the world’s most-wanted man could remain holed up less than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the country’s main military academy, and bemoaned the damage the matter has caused to Pakistan’s reputation abroad.
U.S. lawmakers are questioning whether Pakistan is serious about fighting militants in the region, and some have called for a suspension of American aid to Islamabad. Pakistan is likely to get US$300 million from the United States for costs incurred in fighting militants, officials said today.
The funds are part of a so-called Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a U.S. programme to reimburse countries that have incurred costs supporting counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. The United States has reimbursed Pakistan US$7.4 billion under the CSF programme since 2001, when Pakistan joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy. Funds that come in through the CSF are not officially designated as U.S. foreign aid.
Pakistan’s pervasive Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has a long history of contacts with Islamist militants.
But a senior U.S. lawmaker said in Washington it was not clear that senior Pakistani officials had sheltered bin Laden.
“Today, from all the information I have seen, we can’t conclusively say that somebody senior knew and promoted safe haven,” said U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, an army general who seized power in 1999 and lives in exile in London, told ABC News that there was a possibility that rogue junior officers in the country’s intelligence and military might have been aware of bin Laden’s whereabouts for years.
The United States has sent intelligence extracted from material seized from bin Laden’s compound to several foreign governments, U.S. and Western counter-terrorism officials told Reuters.
Among the material being examined most closely is what a U.S. official described as a “handwritten manual” that American experts believe was penned by bin Laden himself.
The United States and the governments with which it has shared data have found no evidence of specific, imminent plots against U.S. or Western targets, officials said.
In Washington, a U.S. senator who was shown photographs of bin Laden after he was shot said they left no doubt he was dead.
James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said he saw 15 photographs and described some that showed brain matter protruding from an eye socket
“They’re gruesome, of course, because it was taken right after the incident,” Inhofe told Fox News.
U.S. President Barack Obama decided not to release post-mortem photos of bin Laden because doing so could incite violence and be used as an al Qaeda propaganda tool.