ISLAMABAD A pilotless U.S. drone fired two missiles into a Taliban communication center in an ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border, killing five militants, intelligence officials said Saturday.
The attack on the center run by Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistani Taliban chief and an al Qaeda ally, took place late Friday in the South Waziristan region.
Here are some facts about the U.S. missile attacks, the controversy they have caused, and a list of some of the more prominent militants killed, according to Pakistani officials.
WHY DOES THE UNITED STATES ATTACK?
Many al Qaeda members and Taliban fled to northwestern Pakistan's ungoverned ethnic Pashtun belt after U.S.-led soldiers ousted Afghanistan's Taliban government in 2001. From their sanctuaries there the militants have orchestrated insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States and Afghanistan have pressed Pakistan to eliminate the sanctuaries. Apparently frustrated by Pakistan's inability to do so, the United States is hitting the militants itself.
HOW MANY ATTACKS?
The United States has carried out about 48 drone air strikes since the beginning of last year, most since September, killing about 465 people, including many foreign militants, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents.
SOME OF THE PEOPLE REPORTED KILLED
January 28, 2008 - A senior al Qaeda member, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan.
July 28 - An al Qaeda chemical and biological weapons expert, Abu Khabab al-Masri, was killed in South Waziristan.
November 22 - Rashid Rauf, a Briton with al Qaeda links and the suspected ringleader of a 2006 plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic, was killed in an attack in North Waziristan. An Egyptian named as Abu Zubair al-Masri was said to be among the dead in the same attack.
January 1, 2009 - A U.S. drone killed three foreign fighters in South Waziristan, Pakistani agents said. A week later, a U.S. counter-terrorism official said al Qaeda's operational chief Usama al-Kini and an aide had been killed in South Waziristan. The U.S. official declined to say how or when they died.
WHERE ARE THE DRONES LAUNCHED FROM?
A senior U.S. lawmaker, Senator Dianne Feinstein, told a U.S. Senate hearing in February that drones were being operated and flown from an air base inside Pakistan. Pakistan denied that, saying there was no permission for the strikes, nor had there ever been.
The United States has shrugged off Pakistani protests. It says the missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad which allows Pakistani leaders to decry the attacks in public.
U.S. officials also say the United States has been giving Pakistan data on militants in the Afghan border area gathered by surveillance drones in Pakistani airspace under an agreement with Pakistan.
Although the army is preparing an offensive against Mehsud, Pakistan officially objects to the drone strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the fighters.
Pakistan denies that the drone attacks are carried out under a secret agreement. It also denies any agreement under which it gets data from U.S. surveillance drones. Pakistan has pressed the United States to provide it with drones to allow it to conduct its own anti-militant operations.