ISLAMABAD (AP) — Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed at least five militants in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region where the military has been fighting insurgents since June, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.
Hours later, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a rare visit to North Waziristan announced that Pakistan was "winning the war against terrorism" in the troubled area.
The visit was a show of strength for the Pakistani leader who faces weeks-long street protests in the capital, Islamabad, where opposition leaders are demanding his resignation over alleged vote fraud last year.
The latest drone strikes came just hours apart. In the first strike, two drone-fired missiles hit a moving vehicle in the village of Datta Khel in North Waziristan late on Wednesday night, killing at least two militants, the official said.
Two more missiles flattened a militant compound and killed three militants in the same region early on Thursday, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
The Pakistani military launched a major offensive in June in North Waziristan, a rugged tribal area that has long been home to local and foreign militants, including al-Qaida.
The U.S. has long pressed Pakistan to do more to combat militants in the tribal regions, who carry out attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kabul and Islamabad have long accused each other of turning a blind eye to militant groups operating along the rugged, porous border.
U.S. drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where they are seen as a violation of national sovereignty that too often results in the killing and wounding of civilians.
President Barack Obama has defended the use of drone strikes as a way to target militants who threaten the United States from areas where local governments cannot or will not act against them. U.S. officials rarely comment on the specifics of the covert drone program.
On his visit to North Waziristan, Sharif was greeted by army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif in the regin's main town of Miran Shah. Pakistani state-run television showed the prime minister shaking hand with soldiers and listening to a briefing of the military operation's progress.
"We are winning this war. This is a war for the survival of Pakistan," Sharif told the troops. In a speech broadcast live by state TV, Sharif said he hoped the success of the military operation in North Waziristan would bring a durable peace to all of Pakistan.
The military says it has killed over 1,100 militants in the operation and that more than 80 percent of North Waziristan is now under its control. The army has also said that over 800,000 people who were displaced because of the ongoing offensive would soon be allowed to go back to their homes.
Sharif's visit comes amid over month of anti-government rallies in the capital, Islamabad.
Led by Pakistan's famous cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and a fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, thousands of demonstrators have camped outside Parliament since August to seek Sharif's resignation over alleged rigging in the 2013 vote that brought him into power. Sharif has refused to quit and the rallies have started fizzling out.