ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s military said Monday it had for the first time deployed a locally manufactured drone which killed three Islamist insurgents in its restive northwest, in what one analyst termed a “significant development” for the country’s defense capabilities.
Pakistan announced the successful test flight of the Burraq drone, which is capable of firing laser-guided missiles, in March, joining a handful of other countries in possessing the technology.
“1st ever use of Pak(istan) made Burraq Drone today. Hit a terrorist compound in Shawal Valley killing 3 high profile terrorists,” Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said on Twitter.
The Shawal valley, situated in the lawless North Waziristan tribal district that borders Afghanistan, has seen some of the fiercest fighting between Pakistani forces and the Taliban since the launch of a massive military operation there last June.
The area is off-limits to journalists and it is impossible to verify the military’s claims independently.
So far, the United States, Israel, Great Britain and Pakistan have used armed drones in combat, according to a report by the New America Foundation, though several other countries are developing their own programs including Pakistan’s arch-rival India.
Pakistan’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) “bear resemblance to Chinese armed Rainbow CH-3 drones”, according to the report.
Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier-turned-analyst, said: “It’s a significant development. We have been hearing about the development of this weapon system for quite some time.
“It had been tested successfully and now it had been put in to use and it has found its target and hit it.”
Qadir added that Pakistani drones were now set to play an “important role” in its more than a decade-long battle against an Islamist insurgency within its borders, which began after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 caused Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters to flee across the border.
Drone attacks are controversial among rights groups because of the allegedly high numbers of civilian casualties and lack of transparency over targets.
In 2013, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint report which said US officials responsible for the secret CIA drone campaign against suspected terrorists in Pakistan that began in 2004 may have committed war crimes.
Islamabad officially opposes US strikes in its territory, calling them a violation of its sovereignty, though leaked documents in the past have shown the two countries worked together on the campaign.
Pakistani security forces Monday meanwhile recovered the bullet-riddled bodies of five pro-government militia members who were battling Islamist fighters in the same conflict zone.
The corpses were discovered in the Qamar Khel area of Khyber tribal district, according to two local administration officials.