DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed at least 10 people suspected to be Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s northern tribal areas on Sunday, intelligence sources said, days after another drone strike killed a top militant leader in the area.
The attack on three Taliban compounds in Babar Pehari, South Waziristan, killed between 10 and 12 people, six intelligence sources said. More militants were believed to be in the compounds when they were hit, officials said, meaning the death toll could rise.
Three of the intelligence sources and a Taliban commander said that Wali Muhammed, also known as Toofin, was among the dead. He supervised suicide bomb squads for the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban has established sanctuaries in the mountainous Babar area, 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Wana, the main city of the South Waziristan region, they said.
South Waziristan is controlled by the Pakistani army, which operates under an uneasy truce with militants from the local Wazir tribe.
Sunday’s strike followed the death of Mullah Nazir, a Waziri militant leader, on Wednesday. Nazir supported attacks on American forces in Afghanistan but had signed two peace deals with the Pakistani army. On Sunday, thousands of his tribesmen protested against his killing.
Many Pakistanis say drone strikes infringe the country’s sovereignty, and are angry over civilian casualties they cause.
Others say the drones are the only way of targeting militants who terrorise the local population in areas the Pakistani army is unwilling to patrol.
Drone strikes dramatically increased after U.S. President Barack Obama took office in 2009. There were only five drone strikes in 2007, but the number rose to 117 in 2010 before declining to 46 last year.
Exact casualty figures are difficult to verify. Most of those killed are militants, but some civilians have also been killed. (Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshwar; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Pravin Char)