Mon, Sep 19, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan battles Taliban for drone debris

COVERT PROGRAM:Elsewhere in the country, militants attacked a pro-government tribe, killing 15 and sparking retribution from a tribal militia, who killed 10 militants

AP and Reuters, DERA ISMAIL KHAN and PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

Pakistani soldiers battled Taliban militants to seize precious debris from a suspected US drone that crashed in a rugged tribal area near the Afghan border, Pakistani intelligence officials said yesterday.

The unmanned aircraft crashed on Saturday night near Jangara village in the South Waziristan tribal area, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The village is located near the border with North Waziristan.

The officials said they learned of the crash by intercepting Taliban radio communications, but do not know what caused it. Both North and South Waziristan are home to many Taliban fighters, but it is unclear whether they shot down the aircraft or if it crashed because of technical problems. Drone crashes have happened before in Pakistan, but they are rare.

The debris was first seized by the Taliban. Several hours after the crash, the Pakistani army sent soldiers in to wrest it out of militant hands, sparking a fight with the Taliban in which three militants were killed, the officials said. Three militants and two soldiers were also wounded in the clash, they said.

Nawab Khan, a government official in South Waziristan, confirmed the drone crash and the subsequent clash between militants and army troops. However, he did not know whether the army had successfully seized the debris.

Neither the Pakistani army nor the US embassy responded to request for comment.

The US normally does not acknowledge the covert CIA-run drone program in Pakistan, but US officials have said privately that the attacks have killed many high-level militants — most recently, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, and al-Qaeda chief of operations in Pakistan Abu Hafs al-Shahri.

Meanwhile, at least 15 people were killed when Taliban militants attacked a checkpost manned by pro-government tribesmen and security forces in northwest Pakistan, officials said yesterday.

Armed with assault rifles and hand grenades, the militants killed four ethnic Pashtun tribesmen and a paramilitary soldier in the attack late on Saturday.

Members of a tribal militia and security forces retaliated, killing 10 militants, said a senior government official in the Khyber region near the Afghan border, where the incident took place.”

A large number of weapons from the militants were also confiscated,” said the official, Rehan Khattak.

Pakistan’s Taliban, who are close to al-Qaeda, have stepped up attacks on Pashtun tribes who have raised militias to help security forces.

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