ISLAMABAD Suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at militant targets in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border on Thursday, killing at least five people, intelligence officials said.
Civilian casualties caused by the missile-carrying, pilotless drones, operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, have infuriated many Pakistanis and made it harder for the government to cooperate with the United States.
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 40 drone air strikes since the beginning of last year, most since September, killing more than 335 people, including many foreign militants, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents. There have been 19 attacks this year.
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.
October 31 - A mid-level al Qaeda leader, Abu Akash, was killed in an attack in North Waziristan.
November 19 - An Arab al Qaeda operative identified as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi was killed in Bannu district.
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 even 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 said last month the United States had given Pakistan data on militants in the Afghan border area gathered by surveillance drones in Pakistani airspace under an agreement with Pakistan. Confirming the existence of the program, which started in mid-March, U.S. military officials said it allowed the Pakistani military to request missions over specific areas of its Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Pakistan denied any such agreement. Pakistan supports the U.S.-led campaign against militancy but does not allow foreign military operations inside its territory. It says the drones violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants. Pakistan has pressed the United States to provide it with drones to allow it to conduct its own anti-militant operations.