Seven killed in suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan

AP - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, left, administers the oath to newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on June 5.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suspected U.S. drone strike killed seven people Friday night in northwest Pakistan, two days after the country’s new prime minister vowed to stop such attacks.

Pakistani intelligence officials said the attack occurred shortly after sunset in a forested tribal area that straddles North and South Waziristan, not far from the border with Afghanistan. Four people were seriously hurt, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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It was not immediately known who was targeted, but the region is a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, blamed by U.S. officials for unrelenting violence on both sides of the Afghan border.

The strike came a little more than a week after a suspected U.S. drone in the same region killed Wali ur-Rehman, second in command of the Pakistani Taliban, which is linked by officials to a 2009 attack that killed seven Americans at a CIA facility in Afghanistan.

U.S. strikes on Pakistani soil have been on the decline, but President Obama said last month that attacks would continue against targets that pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the United States as long as there is “near-
certainty” that civilian casualties could be avoided. Obama also indicated that different rules would continue to apply in the area that the United States considers the Afghanistan war theater, which includes Pakistan’s border region.

But the latest strike could quickly test U.S. relations with Pakistan’s newly installed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. In a speech to the nation shortly before he took the oath of office on Wednesday, Sharif vowed to aggressively counter the strikes.

“The drone attacks that are being carried out for years now shall stop now,” Sharif said. “If we respect the sovereignty of other nations, these nations shall also respect the sovereignty of our country. We will devise a unanimous agenda to address the issue of drone attacks.

Despite Sharif’s tough talk, he has stressed the importance of good relations with the United States as the two countries work to ensure stability in the region leading up to NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan next year.

The drone strikes, which began during the George W. Bush administration, are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and residents blame them for scores of civilian casualties and damage to homes, schools and mosques.

Yet such strikes are often aimed at militants who are also trying to overthrow Pakistan’s government, and Pakistan’s military has so far not signaled a willingness to try to intercept the drones.

Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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