Two remote U.S. missile strikes that killed at least 20 people at suspected terrorist hideouts in northwestern Pakistan yesterday offered the first tangible sign of President Obama’s commitment to sustained military pressure on the terrorist groups there, even though Pakistanis broadly oppose such unilateral U.S. actions.
The shaky Pakistani government of Asif Ali Zardari has expressed hopes for warm relations with Obama, but members of Obama’s new national security team have already telegraphed their intention to make firmer demands of Islamabad than the Bush administration, and to back up those demands with a threatened curtailment of the plentiful military aid that has been at the heart of U.S.-Pakistani ties for the past three decades.
The separate strikes on two compounds, coming three hours apart and involving five missiles fired from Afghanistan-based Predator drone aircraft, were the first high-profile hostile military actions taken under Obama’s four-day-old presidency. A Pakistani security official said in Islamabad that the strikes appeared to have killed at least 10 insurgents, including five foreign nationals and possibly even “a high-value target” such as a senior al-Qaeda or Taliban official.
It remained unclear yesterday whether Obama personally authorized the strike or was involved in its final planning, but military officials have previously said the White House is routinely briefed about such attacks in advance.
At his daily White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to answer questions about the strikes, saying, “I’m not going to get into these matters.” Obama convened his first National Security Council meeting on Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday afternoon, after the strike.