By Phillip Ittner
Several U.S. drone strikes killed 17 people Monday in South Waziristan, Pakistan’s rugged tribal region bordering Afghanistan, according to Pakistani authorities.
Among the dead are several suspected militant leaders, including several Arab nationals. Pakistan officials said the missiles, fired from unmanned aircraft, hit a compound, an Islamic seminary and a vehicle near the main town of Wana.
The United States has stepped up drone attacks since a secret U.S. raid killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on May 2 in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
Speaking to reporters in the Pakistani city of Quetta, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said intelligence gathering between Pakistan and the United States is returning to previous levels, following a breakdown after bin Laden’s killing, which angered many in the Pakistani military because of its covert nature.
But Gilani said said the two nations would continue to work together to hunt down terrorist leaders.
He said the United States is concerned about the top leaders and commanders of al-Qaida, and so are Pakistan’s leaders because they cannot allow the use of Pakistani soil for terrorist activities against any third country.
The prime minister spoke just days after a strike in the tribal areas that Pakistan says killed top al-Qaida leader Ilyas Kashmiri.
Mr. Gilani also said the government is confident Kashmiri is dead, but independent confirmation is difficult because no body has been recovered.
Kashmiri was one of the reported five high-level targets that Pakistani sources say Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen presented to the Pakistani leadership during their recent visit.
Retired Pakistani General Mahmood Shah, who was in charge of the tribal areas, says since the bin Laden raid and subsequent attack on the naval base in Karachi, the military and political leadership are reassessing their policies toward the ungoverned tribal areas and insurgents in Pakistan.
“There is a deep introspection in the political and military leadership,” he said. “And they are looking at the whole mosaic of the internal security. Are we moving in the right direction? And if not, we need course correction,” Shah said.
The threat of insurgent retaliation to military pressure is also foremost in many Pakistani’s minds. There have already been suicide bombings in retaliation for Ilyas Kashmiri’s death.
But Pakistani officials insist a re-invigorated drive against terrorists and extremists in the country is coming. They say they are unable to take on the entire tribal region in one massive operation, but will mount a staged operation as they consolidate any new gains.