While attending a conference in Delhi, the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that the usage of drone strikes to target insurgents based in and around North-west Pakistan is necessary to maintain the security of NATO installations. He said that the US is just defending itself against acts of terror. His announcement comes only a few days after the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of the senior-most members of the Al Qaeda, in a drone attack.
A total of 15 people were killed in the drone strike, which targeted al-Libi on Monday. The attack occurred in the village of Hesokhel, located close to the Afghan border, in the North Waziristan Agency. During the past two weeks, the US had conducted a total of 8 drone strikes in the Pakistani province of FATA, killing a number of foreign as well as local militants. Most of the strikes have occurred in the North Waziristan and the South Waziristan Agencies, which have been hit by the militancy the most.
Pakistani lawmakers had requested the US to stop the drone attacks, saying that the collateral damages resulting from such actions risked alienating the native population. However, the US has repeatedly rejected the demands, saying that there is no other option to prevent cross-border attacks in to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) facilities in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the US security officials hailed the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, saying that he was the mastermind behind several al Qaeda attacks which had targeted the NATO troops. They claimed that Al Qaeda will struggle to find a suitable replacement for him, considering his experience and technical knowledge. Al-Libi, affiliated to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, had been living in Afghanistan for the last two decades, taking part in the planning of various high profile Al Qaeda operations.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani government yesterday called up the American Chargé d’affaires, to convey its criticism to the continuing drone attacks. A statement by the foreign office claimed that the attacks once again violated the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan.