A suspected U.S. drone crashed in Pakistan near the Afghan border Sunday, a rare mishap for a program Washington has increasingly relied on to kill Taliban and Al-Qaida militants, said intelligence officials and a local resident.
Local tribesmen in North Waziristan congratulated each other for shooting down the drone, said resident Saudur Rehman, who indicated that he heard gunfire just before the crash. But the Pakistani army rejected similar claims after a drone crashed in neighboring South Waziristan in 2008, saying it was a technical problem.
North Waziristan is dominated by militant groups that stage cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Since the Dec. 30 suicide bombing at a remote base in Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA employees, suspected U.S. drones carried out 12 missile strikes in North and South Waziristan. The strikes are part of President Barack Obama’s trend of relying more heavily on the unmanned aircraft to kill Pakistani militants than his predecessor.
The militants have responded with killings targeting people they suspect of helping with the strikes, including six Pakistani men whose bodies were found Monday.
Pakistani intelligence officials have said at least 30 of their operatives were killed in the region in 2009, many with notes attached to the bodies alleging they were U.S. spies.
The six bodies had similar notes, said intelligence officials and residents.
“This is the fate of American spies,” said a note attached to one body written in the local Pashtu language, resident Razaullah Wazir said.
The U.S. does not discuss the drone strikes, but officials have said that they have killed senior Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in the country.
Pakistani officials protest the strikes as violations of the country’s sovereignty, but many analysts believe the U.S. has a secret deal with the government allowing them.