PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone fired two missiles into Pakistan’s northwestern South Waziristan region Tuesday, killing at least six insurgents, including an Al Qaeda foreign fighter, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The missiles struck a sprawling compound near Wana, the main town of the region. It was being used by a group of “Punjabi Taliban,” a term used for Pakistani militants drawn from the central province of Punjab, intelligence officials said.
“Six militants have been killed. An al Qaeda man of foreign origin is also believed to have been killed,” an intelligence official told Reuters. “The death toll may rise.”
The nationality of the foreigner could not be immediately determined.
There was no independent confirmation of the attack, and militant groups often dispute government accounts.
A large number of Arab, Chechen and Central Asian insurgents have taken shelter with Pakistani militants in the lawless tribal regions on the Afghan border after fleeing the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in late 2001.
The United States has stepped up missile strikes by pilotless drones in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt since a Jordanian suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees at a U.S. base in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province in December.
But most of this year’s strikes have been in North Waziristan, next door. This is the first drone strike in South Waziristan since July 2009, according to the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington that tracks drone strikes.
Al Qaeda’s number three, Sheikh Sa‘ad al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, was believed to have been killed in a similar strike in North Waziristan last month.
The Pakistan army launched a major offensive against homegrown militants in South Waziristan in mid-October, killing hundreds of insurgents and destroying many of their bases. Authorities in recent days have stepped up efforts to encourage tribesmen displaced by fighting to return to their homes.
But despite losing ground, militants have shown the ability to bounce back and have carried out a wave of bomb and suicide attacks, killing hundreds of civilians and security personnel, mostly in the northwest.
Many militants who fled South Waziristan have taken shelter in other tribal regions, mainly in the Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber areas.
Also Tuesday, helicopter gunships pounded three vehicles carrying militants in the Kurram region, killing 11 militants and destroying two vehicles, local officials said.
Additional reporting and writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton