8 Killed in Suspected US Strike in Pakistan

March 25, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A suspected U.S. missile attack killed eight militants including several foreigners on Wednesday in the stronghold of Pakistan's top Taliban commander, officials said. The strike damaged two vehicles near Makeen, a town in the South Waziristan region that borders Afghanistan, two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press.

Citing informants and intercepted militant communications, they said four of the dead were foreigners who had been riding in a pickup truck near a small bridge. Four local militants also died, while three more were injured, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly to the media. Reporters cannot verify reports from the area because authorities and militants limit access.

Makeen is the base of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan's own Taliban movement. There was no immediate indication that he was in either of the vehicles targeted Wednesday.

Pakistani officials say homegrown militants including Mehsud have become close allies of al-Qaida and have cooperated in attacks including last September's suicide truck bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad.

American forces have carried out scores of missile attacks on al-Qaida and Taliban targets in Pakistan's un-policed border belt since last year, despite officials protests from Islamabad.

U.S. officials say the strikes, apparently carried out by unmanned aircraft operated by the CIA, have killed a string of militant leaders and put al-Qaida on the defensive.

The area is considered a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

The Pakistani government argues that the tactic is counterproductive because it kills civilians, stokes anti-American feeling in the Islamic world's only nuclear-armed country and undermines its own efforts to isolate extremists.

While the U.S. missile strikes have been concentrated in the North and South Waziristan regions, the Pakistan army has launched offensives against militants in other border areas farther north.

The military last month declared victory in Bajur, the most northerly of Pakistan's impoverished tribal regions, saying it had eliminated a "mega-sanctuary" for militants mounting attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The operation flattened several towns and villages and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and spend the winter in makeshift camps.

On Wednesday, hundreds of camp dwellers blocked a main road near the northwestern city of Peshawar in the latest in a series of protests for more government assistance.

Police fired assault rifles and tear gas to disperse them, and at least one person was shot dead during the protest.

Police denied responsibility, saying there were some among the crowd who were firing guns during the march. A protest organizer claimed that police had killed two people.

The protesters want better facilities in the camps and financial aid to help families return home and rebuild property damaged during the offensive and compensation for loved-ones killed in the fighting.

U.S. commanders have praised the Bajur operation, though there appeared to be little cross-border coordination, allowing many militants to escape into Afghanistan.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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