Friday, April 22, 2011

Deadly US Drone Attacks Fuel Anger in Pakistan

April 22, 2011

Deadly Drone Strike by U.S. May Fuel Anger in Pakistan

New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An American drone attack killed 23 people in North Waziristan on Friday, Pakistani military officials said, in a strike against militants that appeared to signify unyielding pressure by the United States on Pakistan’s military amid increasing opposition to such strikes.

The strike came a day after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, met with the Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and asked that Pakistan do more to fight militants who use North Waziristan as a base from which to attack United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The assault was the second show of the United States’ determination to continue drone attacks since the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, met this month in Washington with Director Leon E. Panetta of the Central Intelligence Agency to request a halt to the strikes.

Friday’s attack could further fuel anti-drone sentiment among the Pakistani public. A government official in North Waziristan told Pakistani reporters that five children and four women were among the 23 who were killed.

The attack singled out forces of a militant commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose loyalists cross the border into Afghanistan to fight American and NATO soldiers, the government official said.

Mr. Bahadur operates under a peace accord with the Pakistani Army that ensures that militants under his control do not attack Pakistani soldiers but concentrate only on allied soldiers.

Those killed Friday were gathered in Spinwam, an area close to Mir Ali in North Waziristan that had become a hub for militants in the past several months, the official said.

In the increasing public war of nerves between the American and Pakistani armies, Pakistan’s government is allowing a planned anti-NATO protest to go ahead in Peshawar this weekend. A political leader, Imran Khan, has called on protesters to stage a sit-in on Saturday to block trucks carrying NATO supplies for the war in Afghanistan. The trucks travel through Peshawar from the seaport of Karachi to Torkham, the gateway to Afghanistan.

The drone strike on Friday came after Admiral Mullen delivered an unusually harsh message during his visit here, saying publicly that Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, directly supported and abetted the Haqqani network of militants in North Waziristan. The network’s militants are responsible for many of the American casualties in Afghanistan, American commanders say.

The United States has long held that the Haqqani network was supported by the Pakistani spy agency, but it rarely says so publicly.

In a separate episode, between the Pakistani military and the Taliban, 16 soldiers from the Pakistani Frontier Corps were killed Thursday when their checkpoint was overrun by 150 militants near the Afghanistan border, a Pakistani security official said.

The battle continued for close to 12 hours at Kharkai in the northern district of Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, formerly North-West Frontier Province. Two officers sent to reinforce the troops were killed in an ambush, the official said.

The attack by the militants on Pakistani soldiers came as the army embarked on a renewed assault in Mohmand, part of the tribal areas that have proved difficult for the Pakistani Army to hold.

In a report to Congress this month, the Obama administration complained that the Pakistani Army had “no clear path” toward defeating the insurgency inside Pakistan, and cited the failed efforts to eradicate the militants from Mohmand as an illustration. The army “was failing for the third time in two years” to clear militants from Mohmand, the report said.

The 150 militants who carried out the attack on Thursday appeared to have fled the army assault to Afghanistan and then re-entered Pakistan to strike at the soldiers.

General Kayani, the chief of the Pakistani military, visited Mohmand on Thursday for the second stage of a new assault focused on the Suran, a narrow valley on the border with Afghanistan.

In the last few months, American and NATO forces on the other side of the border of Mohmand have helped Pakistan to attack militants as they escaped into Afghanistan, the Pakistani security official said. But the Pakistani militants who attacked in Dir on Thursday appeared to have escaped before the assault on the Suran began and were allowed to re-enter Pakistan by elements in the Afghan Army who were assisting them, the official said.

Jane Perlez reported from Islamabad, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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