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After Hiatus, U.S. Launches Drone Attack In Pakistan


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. The United States appears to have resumed drone attacks in Pakistan, specifically in Pakistan's tribal areas, where they've been used to target militants operating along the border with Afghanistan. This strike comes after at least a six-week break in drone strikes.

NPR's Julie McCarthy has just finished three years as NPR's Islamabad bureau chief. She's on the line to talk about this. Hi, Julie.


INSKEEP: So what do you know about this attack?

MCCARTHY: Well, government officials in Pakistan say that this particular drone strike happened in North Waziristan - where a lot of them take place - shortly after midnight, in the area around the main city of Miranshah. At least three suspected militants were reported killed.

The attack targeted the home of a local tribal elder, who government sources say rented out a portion of his house to quote-unquote, foreigners. That usually means militants. And in this case, the strike is reported to have killed Uzbeks.

But the significance of this attack is not that foreigners were taken out in it, Steve, but more to the point that it does mark the resumption of drone strikes here, in this area.

INSKEEP: Well, yeah. Let's remind people about that, Julie McCarthy. There was a time - maybe a year ago - when there were so many drone strikes that this wouldn't even be news. But there had been no strikes for weeks as relations got very, very bad between the U.S. government and the Pakistani government.

MCCARTHY: That's right. The U.S. appeared to have backed off of drone strikes, after a NATO attack along the border ended up killing some two dozen Pakistani soldiers. A very incendiary event to Pakistan and it caused a plunge, really, in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

The U.S. investigated, called it a tragic mistake. The Pakistanis rejected the finding. And after their soldiers were slain in that incident, Pakistan shut down all routes for NATO supplies transiting from Pakistan into Afghanistan. And those routes still remain closed.

There were anti-U.S. demonstrations that erupted across the country. The military called for a total review of military-to-military relations. The government did the same thing. Talking on the street was all about, our sovereignty being violated. And in an apparent attempt to draw down all that tension, the U.S. quietly and unofficially appeared to have suspended the drone attacks.

And of course, all of this tension in the relations comes after a great deterioration since the U.S. secret raid on Osama bin Laden. Deep suspicions there were opened out into the public. And then this November attack was just seen as another serious blow to these already teetering relations.

INSKEEP: Well, given all that background, now we have to wonder what the response is going to be to this resumption of drone strikes.

MCCARTHY: That's right. It's unclear so far. It's early hours; very little has been said about it up until this point. It did happen late last night. We may be seeing an effort to downplay this, Steve. The military had nothing to offer on this today.

The government in Pakistan, for its part, has many things hanging fire. And a re-igniting of anti-American protests on the street is really, not what they need now.

In fact, all of this - you know, the NATO supplies, the drones, the Pakistani backlash on the street - has everything to do with the endgame next door in Afghanistan. And the militants, and the government, are each trying to figure out their role in that.

INSKEEP: Did you say the militants are trying to figure out their role?

MCCARTHY: Well, something very interesting has happened in the past couple of weeks. Al-Qaida has called for unity with the Pakistani Taliban in their fight, in their struggle. They're saying, look, let's have a united front against one thing: American troops next door in Afghanistan.

Now, in recent weeks we've had a lot of militant activities directed against the Pakistani security forces. They've been executed; dead bodies have been turned up. We've had a terrible bombing in Pakistan just in the past 48 hours. So there you see a split within the militancy - those who want to join common cause with al-Qaida and say yes, we will fight the Americans; and those who say no, simply not, we will continue to fight the Pakistani state.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy - we find her today in New Delhi. Julie, thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.