PARACHINAR, Pakistan — Suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at a vehicle and a house in northwest Pakistan, killing 12 people Monday in a rare attack in an area where some of NATO’s fiercest enemies have reportedly traveled, Pakistani officials said.
The first attack in the Kurram tribal area hit a vehicle, killing five people, said Noor Alam, a local government official. As tribesmen rushed to the scene, the vehicle was again struck, killing two more people, he said.
Minutes later, a suspected U.S. drone attacked a nearby house, killing five people, Alam said.
Seven of the 12 people killed in the attacks were Afghan militants whose bodies were taken across the border to be buried, Alam said. The attacks were confirmed by two Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The Obama administration has dramatically stepped up covert CIA drone attacks against militants in Pakistan, but there have only been a handful of strikes in the Kurram tribal area. Monday’s strikes could indicate an expansion of the program.
Most of the recent drone strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, an important sanctuary for the Haqqani network, which U.S. military officials have said is the most dangerous militant group battling foreign forces in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has repeatedly asked Pakistan to launch an offensive against the network in North Waziristan, but the military has said that its forces are stretched too thin by other operations in the tribal areas.
Local tribesmen said late last year that the Haqqani network cut a deal with Shiite Muslim militias in Kurram to allow the militants to cross through the area on their way to fighting in Afghanistan. The route would help them avoid the drone attacks that have rained down on North Waziristan.
Drone attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan and have generated tension between Washington and Islamabad, which increased following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last month and humiliated the Pakistani government.
Around 1,000 tribesmen held a protest against drone strikes Monday in Miram Shah, one of the main towns in North Waziristan. The rally was organized by a pro-Taliban political party, Jamiat Ulema Islam. The crowd shouted “Down with America” and threatened to block NATO supplies to Afghanistan if the drone attacks don’t stop.
The U.S. refuses to publicly acknowledge drone attacks in Pakistan, but officials have said privately that they have killed senior Taliban and al-Qaida commanders.
Pakistani officials regularly criticize the drone strikes in public, but some are believed to support them in private depending on which militants they target. At least some of the drones are also widely believed to take off from bases inside Pakistan.
Analysts have said that Pakistani officials likely support drone strikes that target the Pakistani Taliban, which has declared war on the state and carried out scores of deadly attacks across the country.
But officials are likely less inclined to support strikes against the Haqqani network, which has historical ties to the Pakistani government and has focused its attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan. Many analysts believe the Pakistani government views the Haqqani network as a key ally in Afghanistan once foreign forces withdraw.
Also Monday, dozens of militants attacked the homes of two prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders in the Mohmand tribal area with grenades and machine gunfire, killing four people and wounding six others, said Zabit Khan, a local government official. One of the tribal elders was critically wounded in the attacks, which took place shortly after midnight.
Elsewhere in the northwest, a 9-year-old school girl wearing a suicide vest was detained at a paramilitary checkpoint in Lower Dir district, said local police chief Salim Marwat. She was kidnapped from the city of Peshawar on Saturday and was forced to wear the vest, he said.
In the southwest, a car bomb exploded near a women’s college in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, killing two people and wounding 12 others, said police officer Hamid Shakil. He did not say who is suspected of carrying out the attack or indicate the target.
Baluchistan has experienced frequent attacks by nationalists who demand a greater share of the province’s natural resource wealth. But car bomb attacks are rare.
The province, which borders Afghanistan, is also widely believed to be home for many Afghan Taliban militants, including the group’s leader, Mullah Omar.