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Pakistan Army Chief Slams US Drone Operation

Pakistan’s military chief is sharply criticizing a suspected U.S. drone strike that killed two key Haqqani network commanders in northwestern Pakistan earlier this week.

Pakistani security sources said Tuesday’s pre-dawn missile attack destroyed a suspected militant hideout in the remote district of Hangu.

The strike, witnesses reported, killed two men, including commander Abubakar of the notorious, Taliban-allied network.

A Pentagon spokesman told VOA on Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Defense had not conducted any recent strikes in Pakistan. The CIA typically oversees drone strikes in Pakistan, but the agency does not confirm them under a long-standing arrangement with Pakistan.

In years past, some drone strikes have raised tensions between Islamabad and Washington. Army chief General Qamar Bajwa’s comments Wednesday indicated that the two countries could again be at odds over the operations.  

The chief called for the U.S. to share “actionable intelligence” with Islamabad, saying his forces were capable of moving against the militants. He did not directly refer to the Hangu strike.

“Unilateral actions like drone strikes, et cetera, are counterproductive and against the spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan,” Bajwa said.

He made the remarks while chairing a meeting of his regional commanders in the provincial capital of Peshawar.

Tuesday’s attack appeared to be the first under the Trump administration that hit a target outside Pakistan’s semiautonomous, militant-dominated tribal areas on the Afghan border.

It came amid repeated assertions by Pakistani leaders that counterterrorism military operations had uprooted Haqqani bases, forcing fighters to flee to Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have long alleged that Taliban insurgents, particularly the Haqqani network, are covertly receiving support from the Pakistani spy agency to plot deadly cross-border attacks.

The Trump administration is reviewing the U.S. Afghan policy. Some American critics, such as Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center research group, say that ramping up drone strikes against insurgents sheltering on Pakistani side could be a key component of the new strategy.

Under the previous U.S. administration, hundreds of drone strikes killed fugitive Haqqani and Taliban operatives in the Pakistani tribal areas, particularly in North Waziristan. Pakistani officials maintained that the unilateral drone strikes were undermining its counterterrorism operations and fueling militancy in the region.

The pace of the drone operations has significantly reduced in recent years. In the meantime, Pakistani military forces have undertaken major counterterrorism offensives and extended government authority to the volatile tribal belt.

But the operations, U.S.authorities insist, have spared insurgents involved in cross-border attacks and have targeted only those militants who are attacking Pakistan.