While domestic issues dominate the headlines in the US, a clandestine war in the tribal regions of Pakistan continued apace Thursday, with separate drone attacks leaving many dead and revealing fresh evidence of illegal behavior by the CIA.
A top leader in the Pakistani Taliban was reported killed by a US drone strike early Thursday along with between six and ten other individuals in South Waziristan.
If confirmed, the death of Mullah Nazir will be claimed as a victory for US military officials, including President Obama, who have continued to mount clandestine drone attacks against resistance fighters in the tribal regions of Pakistan.
A cluster of separate missile attacks were reported in two incidents in Pakistan on Thursday. The first, according to reports, struck Nazir's home in South Waziristan where a meeting was being held.
"We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case."
Later, a separate attack took place near Mir Ali, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region. In that incident the Associated Press reports:
One missile hit a vehicle near the town, followed by another missile when people rushed to the vehicle to help people in the car. The officials say four people were killed in the strike, although the identities of the dead were not immediately known.
Such attacks—in which rescuers or onlookers responding to a missile strike are then targeted by the drone operators—have been specifically singled out by human rights defenders as a gross practice and a horrible violation of the international laws.
Reporting on an emerging pattern discovered early in 2012, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism interviewed Naz Modirzadeh, associate director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, who said killing people at a rescue site has no legal justification.
"Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat, then it is an extra-judicial execution," Modirsadeh said. "We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case."
Critics, of course, continue to argue that the drone program and targeted killings that often leave civilians dead are only making matters worse—angering broad sectors of the population who live under the constant threat of US missile attacks and making prospects for peace in the region less, not more, likely.
Despite legal challenges to the ongoing Obama drone and assassination policy, US courts continue to shield the administration from clarifying how it legally justifies attacks in country's with which the US is not at war or from describing to the public how it determines which targets are legitimate.
Filing from Islamabad, The Guardian's Jon Boone reports:
Mullah Nazir was reportedly holding a meeting at the time of the missile strike with other senior leaders of his group in a building in Birmil in South Waziristan, one of the troubled tribal regions where the Taliban, al-Qaida and other militant groups have based themselves.
The first reported drone strike of 2013 was followed by another attack in North Waziristan at around 9am on Thursday morning. That strike reportedly involved four separate missile strikes on a vehicle in Mubarakshahi, a village near Miran Shah.
Because journalists are usually prevented by militants from visiting places hit by drones, the exact details of what happened and who was killed in such attacks are often extremely hard to verify.
Residents and an intelligence official in South Waziristan who spoke to a local journalist said the total number of people killed in the first attack was either six or 10. The intelligence source said all the men killed were "top leaders" of the Mullah Nazir group, the leading militant group in South Waziristan.
Reuters, citing a number of different security sources, reported Nazir's deputy commander, Ratta Khan, was also killed, along with eight others.
Neither the Pakistani government nor the Taliban had made an official statement by lunchtime on Thursday.