DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — The United States fired missiles at three suspected terrorist targets near the Afghan border Monday, killing 16 people and keeping the pressure on insurgents days after a strike was thought to have killed an al Qaeda commander, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The identities of the dead in the unusually intense volley of drone-fired strikes in the South Waziristan tribal region were not known. Several Arabs were said to be among the victims of one of them, according to the officials, who did not give their names in line with agency policy.
Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters remain in South Waziristan, despite a Pakistani army offensive launched there in 2009.
Since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 in northwest Pakistan, missile strikes have picked up pace from a relative lull in the year’s first half. But anger at the bin Laden operation, seen here as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, has led to fresh calls on Washington to stop the attacks.
Pakistani authorities said Sunday that they were increasingly sure that a Friday missile strike in South Waziristan killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a top al Qaeda commander rumored to be a long-shot contender to replace bin Laden as the terrorist network’s chief.
Getting definitive confirmation about who died in the missile strikes is difficult, especially if no body is retrieved.
When asked about Kashmiri on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said, “The U.S. has confirmed that he died.”
It was unclear if he was referring to private communications between the two governments. Publicly, at least, U.S. officials have not confirmed the death.
Before dawn, one set of missiles hit a compound in Wucha Dana village, killing seven people. The second set landed at about the same time at a Muslim seminary there, killing five people, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.
They said several Arab men were thought to be among the dead.
Later Monday, missiles hit a vehicle traveling in Dra Nishter village elsewhere in the region, killing four, officials said.
Washington says the missiles have killed hundreds of terrorists, including several top al Qaeda commanders since they began in earnest in 2008. More than 30 have struck this year, compared with last year’s tally of about 130. Some experts question their legality and the secrecy under which they operate. Transparent investigations of reputed civilian casualties are not carried out.
Pakistani intelligence is thought to provide the U.S. with targeting information for at least some of the strikes.