ISLAMABAD (AP) — A missile launched from a U.S. drone struck a suspected militant hideout in a tribal region in northern Pakistan where allies of a powerful warlord were gathered Saturday, killing five of his supporters, Pakistani officials said.
The strike in North Waziristan against allies of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a militant commander whose forces frequently target U.S. and other NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan, comes amid speculation over whether Pakistan will launch an operation against militants in the tribal region.
The U.S. has pushed Pakistan repeatedly to take such a step and earlier this week U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told The Associated Press that Pakistan was preparing an operation targeting the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan.
Pakistan has been reluctant to undertake an offensive there, saying its military is already overtaxed by fighting in other tribal areas and parts of Pakistan. But many in the U.S. believe Pakistan does not want to upset the many militant groups there such as the Haqqani network that could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces leave.
On Thursday, the top U.S. commander in the region, Gen. James Mattis, met with Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
During the meeting the Pakistani general repeated his government's stance that it would undertake an operation in North Waziristan only if it coincides with Pakistan's interests and not in response to outside pressure, according to a military press release.
Drone attacks like Saturday's are very unpopular in Pakistan, where they are seen as a violation of the country's sovereignty and responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians. The U.S. maintains the targeted strikes are directed against militants and necessary to combat groups like al-Qaida.