A suspected U.S. missile attack has killed at least 13 suspected militants in a remote region of Pakistan close to the Afghan border where al-Qaida-linked operatives are believed to have established their bases. Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
Local intelligence officials and witnesses have reported several missiles allegedly fired by an unmanned U.S. spy plane hit an al-Qaida-linked training facility in the North Waziristan tribal region. At least seven foreign militants are said to be among those killed in the attack but their identity is not known.
U.S. drones are said to have carried out a series of missile strikes against militant hideouts in Pakistan's border region since the beginning of September. While American officials do not comment on these attacks, Pakistani leaders say they are not only a violation of its territorial sovereignty but are undermining the government's anti-terror efforts.
Officials in Islamabad hope that President-elect Barack Obama's new administration will be more sensitive to Pakistan's concerns. Analysts like former army general Talat Massood say that civilian deaths in U.S missile strikes are also fueling anti-America sentiment in the region.
"I think we have to emphasize to the new [U.S.] leadership that the cost benefit ratio of these drone attacks is not very productive or not very useful," Massood said. "And we have to show it to them that what are you really gaining? You are saying that you may be hitting a few targets, yes you may be killing a few people who are even high in the so-called third tier leadership or fourth tier leadership [of al-Qaida], but look you are also killing a lot of innocent people."
Friday's attack comes days after head of the U.S. Central Command General David Petraeus met with Pakistan's civilian and military leadership during his first trip to Islamabad. In his remarks after visiting the close U.S ally, General Petraeus said that the missile strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas have killed three important "extremist leaders." But he did not identify them.
Media reports say that al-Qaida's deputy chief of operations, Khalid Habib, was killed in October in one of the attacks carried out by U.S. drones in South Waziristan, another militant-infested tribal region on the Afghan border.
Afghan and U.S-led forces stationed in Afghanistan say that militants hiding on the Pakistani side of the border are playing a role in fueling the Taliban insurgency.
Pakistan maintains its security forces are conducting major operations to secure its border region and have killed more than 1,500 insurgents in the Bajaur tribal region since the beginning of August.
The government is also engaged in efforts win support of local population for its anti-terror campaign in the tribal areas. But militants have frequently targeted those siding with the government. On Thursday, a suicide bomber struck a meeting of pro-government tribal elders, killing up to 20 people in Bajaur. The gathering was discussing plans to drive militants out of their areas.