22 April 2011
ISLAMABAD – U.S. missiles killed 25 people in an al-Qaida and Taliban sanctuary close to the Afghan border on Friday, Pakistani officials said, signaling American intent to press ahead with such attacks despite renewed protests by Islamabad.
In another reminder of the difficulties facing Washington, a well-known politician said he and his followers would try to "blockade" NATO supplies that pass through Pakistan en route to Afghanistan over the weekend to protest the strikes.
Some of the missile victims were militants loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a commander known to stage attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan, but two women and five children were also killed, the officials said. There was no immediate way to verify that information independently because access to the border area is forbidden.
The U.S. has been regularly firing missiles into the border region for 2 1/2 years now, but does not formally acknowledge the CIA-run program. U.S. officials rarely comment on specific strikes, but have said in general terms that they accurately hit militants.
American silence means the usual sources of information about the strikes are Pakistani intelligence officials, who are forbidden to give their names to the media.
The officials said up to 10 missiles destroyed a compound in Spinwam village in North Waziristan, home to militants targeting American and NATO troops just across the border in Afghanistan, as well as to al-Qaida terrorists.
The United States is seeking Pakistan's cooperation in helping stabilize Afghanistan, but tensions between the two nations rose sharply this year after an American CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him.
A day after the contractor's release from prison in March, a missile strike that allegedly killed dozens of innocent tribesmen prompted a rare and strong protest by Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
On Thursday, Kayani said the "drone strikes undermine our national effort against terrorism and turn public support against our efforts, which remains the key to success."
Pakistan's army and political leadership have always publicly condemned the missile attacks but are believed to have sanctioned them privately. That policy allows them to be insulated from some of the anti-American sentiment that runs strong in the country.
Pakistani officials say they now want America to limit the use of the strikes and give them more information about them. But several U.S. officials in Islamabad and Washington have said they will continue regardless of Pakistani objections, which some analysts have suggested were aimed at domestic political consumption or extracting more concessions from Washington in other areas of their relationship.
Many Pakistanis view the Afghan Taliban as a legitimate resistance force, analogous to the force that fought Soviet occupation in the 1980s, so do not agree that their government should be allowing America to attack them on their soil.
The blockade of the main northwestern highway into Afghanistan was to be carried out by a small political party headed by Imran Khan, a former captain of Pakistan's cricket team. It remains to be seen how many people turn out for the protest and how committed they are.
Khan said America would stop drone attacks only if the people of Pakistan staged large protests.
"This is how we can influence the American policy makers to change their strategy," he said.
Associated Press reporters Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Munir Ahmed in
Islamabad, Kimberly Dozier in Washington and Rasool Dawar and Riaz Khan
in Peshawar contributed to this report.