Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wire: Updated - Suspected US Strikes Kill 45 in Pakistan

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 -- Newswire services yesterday reported that two separate missile strikes by unmanned U.S aerial vehicles in northwestern Pakistan are reported to have killed at least 45 suspected militants. A similar attack a day earlier in the same area, which borders Afghanistan, had left at least 14 extremists dead.

The strikes targeted militants in the South Waziristan border region where the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, is believed to have set up terror training camps, according to news sources.

Pakistan's military is also bombing and firing mortars at insurgent targets in the region, saying it is chipping away at Mehsud's resistance before launching a ground offensive there to eliminate him. Mehsud is blamed for many of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in nuclear-armed Pakistan in recent years, the Associated Press said.

News sources said that the first strike took place before dawn and it hit a Taliban training camp. The second attack came hours later when several missiles targeted a large group of Taliban fighters traveling in another part of the border region.

Reuters news service provided the following background information:

Many al Qaeda members and Taliban fled to northwestern Pakistan's ungoverned ethnic Pashtun belt after U.S.-led soldiers ousted Afghanistan's Taliban government in 2001. From their sanctuaries there the militants have orchestrated insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States and Afghanistan have pressed Pakistan to eliminate the sanctuaries. Apparently frustrated by Pakistan's inability to do so, the United States is hitting the militants itself.


The United States has carried out about 47 drone air strikes since the beginning of last year, most since September, killing about 460 people, including many foreign militants, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents.


A senior U.S. lawmaker, Senator Dianne Feinstein, told a U.S. Senate hearing in February that drones were being operated and flown from an air base inside Pakistan. Pakistan denied that, saying there was no permission for the strikes, nor had there ever been.


The United States has shrugged off Pakistani protests. It says the missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad which allows Pakistani leaders to decry the attacks in public.

U.S. officials said last month the United States had given Pakistan data on militants in the Afghan border area gathered by surveillance drones in Pakistani airspace under an agreement with Pakistan.


Although the army is preparing an offensive against Mehsud, Pakistan officially objects to the drone strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the fighters. Pakistan has pressed the United States to provide it with drones to allow it to conduct its own anti-militant operations.
U.S. officials do not publicly comment on the strikes.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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