'Three dead' in Pakistan missile strike
AFP - Saturday, January 3
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - - A suspected US missile strike Friday killed at least three foreign militants in the northwest Pakistan stronghold of a local Taliban commander, a senior security official said.
The strike was the second in as many days in the South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, where hundreds of extremists fled after the US-led invasion in late 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime in Kabul.
There have been more than two dozen such strikes on northwest Pakistan since August, sparking angry government criticism of the United States, a close ally which is believed to be launching the missiles from unmanned CIA aircraft.
"Two missiles were fired on Taliban offices near Ladha village in South Waziristan, killing three foreign militants and wounding two others," the security official told AFP.
The official said he had no details on the nationalities of the foreigners.
Ladha, located about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Afghan border, is the stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud, who leads the country's umbrella Taliban organisation, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The shadowy Mehsud was accused by the government of former president Pervez Musharraf and US officials of masterminding the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.
His group is influential in both North and South Waziristan, as well as in Bajaur tribal district to the north, where Pakistani security forces launched a major anti-militant offensive in August last year.
Reports surfaced in October that Mehsud was seriously ill. His whereabouts are not currently known.
The offices destroyed in Friday's strike were once a girls' school that was taken over several months ago by fighters loyal to Mehsud, the security official said.
"Several Taliban approached the school building after it was hit by the first missile. The drone fired the second missile afterwards," said one resident who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisals.
On Thursday, at least five militants were killed in the Karikot area of South Waziristan close to the Afghan border. Eight suspected militants were killed in a missile strike in the same area last month.
Pakistan has repeatedly protested to the United States that the drone strikes violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the 160 million people of the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.
After Thursday's attack, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi again appealed to Washington to review its policy "to achieve better results."
"As a friend, we are telling them -- don't do it. The drone attacks are not in the interest of the US and Pakistan," he said.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has promised zero tolerance for such violations, but some officials say there is a tacit understanding between the US and Pakistani militaries to allow such action.
The US military as a rule does not confirm the drone attacks.
US and Afghan officials have said repeatedly that Pakistan is not doing enough to crack down on militants, who cross the border to attack US and NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan.
Pakistan rejects those accusations, pointing to its operation in Bajaur, where it says more than 1,500 rebels have been killed since August.
Islamabad also launched an offensive this week in the Khyber tribal area to clear militants from the route used by NATO supply trucks to reach Afghanistan.
The road was reopened for five hours on Friday to allow traffic to reach the famed Khyber Pass on the Afghan-Pakistani border. The administrator of the Khyber area said the road would likely reopen for good in the next two days.
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US Air Force handout image of an unmanned Predator drone. A suspected US missile strike Friday killed at least three foreign militants in the northwest Pakistan stronghold of a local Taliban commander, a senior security official said.
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