US drones appear to have returned to Pakistan

Donald Trump's administration was reported to have carried out a drone strike in Pakistan on Thursday, raising the possibility of a shift in policy after a long hiatus in CIA operations there.

The attack killed two men in the tribal area of Kurram, which lies on the border with Afghanistan, according to government and intelligence officials as well as a local resident.

The reported strike - which occurred the same day as a large US air operation against targets in Yemen - was the first to take place in Pakistan since May last year.

The drone campaign in Pakistan has been known to pause, sometimes for months at a time. But yesterday's attack - if confirmed - would mark the end of the longest gap between strikes since 2006. The US began hitting Pakistan with drone attacks in 2004, carrying out 425 in total so far.

Tribal sources in Pakistan identified one of the men killed last week as Qari Abdullah Sabari, a commander of the Afghan Taliban, and the second man as Shakir, an Afghan national, according to The News. Two missiles reportedly struck their motorcycle.

Anonymous officials have said that the men killed belonged to either the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani Network, groups involved in fighting in Afghanistan.

Confusingly, a Taliban source told Associated Press that a commander with the same first names - Qari Abdullah - was killed in a strike over the border in the Afghan province of Khost. However a US military official denied that any strikes had been carried out in Khost on Thursday.

The last US strike hit Pakistan on May 21, killing the leader of the Afghan Taliban as he was being driven through the restive region of Balochistan. This strike was the first carried out by the US military in Pakistan, with all others having been conducted by the CIA.

US Central Command, the American military command responsible for the region, denied conducting Thursday's strike, while the CIA refused to comment when contacted by the Bureau, a position it has routinely taken.

The Bureau spoke to Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar from Reprieve, who said the attack was "President Trump’s first drone strike in Pakistan and from what we hear from the ground it seems that drones have returned to the tribal areas of Pakistan after a significant drawdown in the last couple of years.”

“Peshawar High Court in 2013 have declared drone strikes in Pakistan a violation of law and Pakistani sovereignty, making Pakistani government responsible for protecting its citizens right to life. State of Pakistan has to do everything in their power to enforce this judgement,” he added.

Drone strikes in Pakistan reached a peak in 2010, when the CIA led a sustained fight against Taliban insurgents in the country’s tribal regions. Strikes have fallen with each passing year since then, with only three taking place in 2016.

Civilian casualties from drone strikes have fallen too, and more rapidly than the decline in strikes. The Bureau recorded at least 421 civilians deaths in drone strikes in Pakistan up to 2013.

However, from 2013 onwards, the Bureau only recorded reports of three civilians casualties from nearly 70 strikes, two of which were western al Qaeda hostages accidentally killed when a drone struck the location they being were held in.

Thursday's attack in Pakistan came on the same day that the US carried out 20 strikes across three provinces in Yemen, an unprecedented intensification of America’s counter-terrorism operations in the country.

The attacks come a month after a botched US special forces raid ended in the deaths of 25 civilians, including nine children under the age of 13 as revealed by the Bureau, and a US Navy SEAL.

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