The distant sound of a rotor propelling an armed drone at about 10,000 feet is there day and night in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the border of Afghanistan.
On March 17, 2011 in the North Waziristan village of Datta Khel, a US Predator drone could not be seen and the terrifying, dull hum of an unmanned aerial vehicle was likely to have been drowned out by the normal morning bustle of the shops and street vendors in the town center as residents went about their normal daily lives.
A group of men in traditional robes and turbans gathered near the bus depot for a jirga, a traditional local forum for dispute resolution in the FATA. They were a majority of maliks, or tribal leaders, some khassadars, or government employees, and reportedly at least four were local Taliban leaders. They sat in two separate circles, as is customary in a jirga, to resolve a dispute between two parties over the rights to a nearby chromite mine. It was 10:35 A.M.
And then without warning, the distinct hiss of a missile followed by a deafening explosion landed squarely at the center of the gathering. Another missile followed moments later. Over forty men were killed instantly, according to local residents interviewed by GlobalPost.
Among the dead were four fighters, including a local commander affiliated with the Haqqani network, recently designated by the Obama administration as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to a Pakistani Intelligence official interviewed at the time of the attack. Twenty nine of those killed were local elders and tribesmen who were there to take part in the jirga proceeding.