Chief Military Correspondent
U.S. robot drones fired missiles Monday at a compound and several vehicles deep in Taliban-controlled territory inside Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency (along the border with Afghanistan), according to reports from the region.
Pakistani intelligence officials said 21 insurgents were killed in the strikes at Mir Ali, including several who died when their truck was hit by a missile, which detonated numerous secondary explosions, al Jazeera
U.S. missile attacks, conducted by the CIA, are running at almost double last year's pace. So far this year, 113 missiles have struck targets in the border regions where terror groups and insurgents
, including al-Qaeda, maintain bases and camps. Pakistan has resisted U.S. pressure to move against these groups, some of which it has supported for years as a strategic hedge in Afghanistan and as a regional counterweight to Indian influence. Pakistan has repeatedly refused to allow U.S. ground forces access to the region, although it has given tacit permission for the covert missile strikes.
In public, however, Pakistan officials loudly condemn the drone operations, and Monday's missile strikes came just a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Yusef Raza Gilani again complained
about such attacks, asserting that they are killing innocent Pakistani civilians.
Mir Ali is known as a hub of al-Qaeda activities, according to Bill Roggio, an expert on the U.S. clandestine war in Pakistan and managing editor of The Long War Journal
In a report Monday, Roggio said Mir Ali is under the sway of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, "an al-Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al-Qaeda's external operations network. Mir Ali is a known hub for al-Qaeda's military and external operations councils. In addition to al-Qaeda, Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area.''
Roggio said other Islamist radical groups are also based in the region, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups.
According to Roggio, 18 senior leaders
of al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups have been killed this year in missile strikes.