Sat, Jul 04, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Missile assault kills 17, wounds 27 in Pakistan

AP , ISLAMABAD

US missiles struck a training facility operated by Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and a militant hide-out yesterday, killing 17 people and wounding 27, intelligence officials said.

The two attacks by drone aircraft took place in South Waziristan, a Mehsud stronghold close to the Afghan border where Pakistani troops are gearing up for a military offensive, two officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

They took place as US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met government officials in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. She discussed topics of “mutual interest” with them, a US Embassy spokesman said.

The drone attacks were the latest in more than 40 believed to have been be carried out by the US against militant targets in the border area since last August. Washington does not directly acknowledge being responsible for the attacks, which kill civilians as well as militants.

Most Pakistanis criticize the drone attacks, and Islamabad officially protests them as violations of its sovereignty. Still, most experts believe the government secretly approves of them and likely provides the US with intelligence.

One of the attacks yesterday targeted an abandoned seminary in the village of Mantoi that was allegedly being used by militants from Mehsud’s group for training, said the officials. The other struck a hide-out in the nearby village of Kokat Khel, they said.

In total, 17 people were killed and 27 were wounded, they said.

On Thursday, US Marines in neighboring Afghanistan launched a major anti-Taliban offensive in southern Helmand province. Pakistan said it moved troops to the stretch of its border opposite Helmand to stop militants fleeing the US assault.

The US wants Pakistan to crack down on militants on its side of the border, believing it essential to stabilizing Afghanistan eight years after the invasion that ousted the Taliban there.

The Pakistani military launched an offensive in the Swat region close to the border in early May and is currently gearing up for operations in South Waziristan to eliminate Mehsud, who has been blamed for a string of deadly suicide attacks across the country that have killed more than 100 people in the past month.

In neighboring North Waziristan yesterday, Pakistani warplanes bombed suspected militant hide-outs, killing at least four insurgents and wounding seven others, two more intelligence officials said. Those airstrikes hit targets where Taliban fighters killed 16 government troops in an ambush earlier this week, the officials said, also speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The US appears to be ramping up the pressure on Mehsud, who is viewed in Islamabad with growing alarm. Last week, the Taliban leader narrowly escaped a strike on a funeral for militants killed in an earlier drone attack. Eighty people died in the strike, although Mehsud escaped unharmed.

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