Tue, Feb 17, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Suspected US strike kills 18 in Pakistan

COLLUSION The airstrikes put to rest hopes that US President Barack Obama would reconsider military strategy in the region, which calls for hitting Taliban safe havens

AFP , PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

A suspected US missile strike yesterday destroyed an Afghan Taliban camp and killed 18 in northwest Pakistan, a day after local affiliates of the group announced a ceasefire, officials said.

At least one missile fired by a suspected drone struck the Taliban center in Bhagan, part of a remote mountain stronghold for the hardline movement which is waging a fierce insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

“One missile fired by a suspected US drone destroyed the Taliban center,” a top Pakistani security official said.

“Eighteen people, including militants, died in this attack according to information from the local area,” said a second security official, who earlier put the death toll at 12.

It was the first suspected US drone attack in Kurram, one of seven semi-autonomous tribal areas in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, where the Taliban are fighting US-led, NATO and Western-backed Afghan forces.

One security official said most of the dead were Afghan Taliban fighters and that commanders had been staying at the hideout.

The center was used to store weapons and lodge militants resting from bouts of fighting in Afghanistan. Local Taliban followers sealed off the area yesterday.

The latest missile attack underscored vanished hopes in Pakistan that the administration of US President Barack Obama would review the policy and abandon what Islamabad has called a violation of its sovereignty.

On Saturday, at least 27 mainly al-Qaeda foreign operatives were killed in a suspected US missile strike that destroyed a major Taliban training camp of top commander Baitullah Mehsud near the Afghan border.

Dozens of similar strikes since August have sparked government criticism of the US, believed to be firing the missiles from CIA drones.

The lawless tribal areas in northwest Pakistan have been wracked by violence since hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaeda rebels sought refuge in the region after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Washington has refused to acknowledge conducting missile strikes in Pakistan, but last week Senator Dianne Feinstein said US drones used to strike suspected insurgents in the country take off and land from a base in Pakistan.

Pakistan rejects US and Afghan accusations that the government is not doing enough to crack down on militants, who wage attacks across the border.

Meanwhile, Pakistani hardliners who have been fighting to impose their brand of Islamic law in the northwest’s Swat valley could sign a peace deal with the government as early as Monday after announcing a 10-day ceasefire, officials said.

The government of troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has been holding talks with a local militant leader, Soofi Mohammad, on making amendments to the enforcement of strict Islamic Shariah law in Swat.

“The talks were very positive and the people of Swat will hear good news soon,” provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.

Provincial chief minister Amir Haider Hoti yesterday convened a meeting of political and religious leaders and tribal elders in Peshawar, officials said, adding that a consensus may be reached during the talks.

Twenty-nine delegates from the so-called Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Shariah, led by Maulana Muhammad Alam, attended the meeting, Hussain said.

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