/ 27 October 2008

Suspected US drone kills up to 20 militants

A suspected United States drone fired missiles on Monday into a Pakistani region on the Afghan border that is a stronghold of a Pakistani Taliban leader, killing up to 20 militants including foreigners, officials said.

Suspected US drones have carried out more than a dozen such missile attacks on militant targets on the Pakistani side of its border with Afghanistan since the beginning of September, killing dozens of people.

”Two missiles were fired, they hit two houses in Shakai and up to 20 militants were killed,” said one of the Pakistani intelligence agency officials, referring to an area in the South Waziristan region that is a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

The Pentagon said it had no information on the drone strike.

US forces in Afghanistan, frustrated over growing cross-border attacks from the Pakistani side of the border, have stepped up their attacks into Pakistan with missile strikes and a commando raid since the beginning of September.

No senior al-Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported to have been killed.

Pakistan, an important partner in the US-led campaign against militancy, objects to the US strikes on its territory saying they violate its sovereignty and increase support for the militants.

Hours before the strike, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reiterated Pakistan’s objections to US attacks, saying they undermined government efforts to isolate the militants and build public support for government efforts against them.

Attack after funeral
Mehsud is Pakistan’s most notorious militant commander, blamed for a string of suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan including the assassination of former prime minster Benazir Bhutto in December last year.

He also supports Taliban militants battling US-led forces in Afghanistan. Mehsud, speaking through a spokesman, denied any involvement in Bhutto’s killing in a suicide gun and bomb attack in the city of Rawalpindi, near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

A Pakistan official said some of the foreigners killed in the attack had attended the funeral of a younger brother of Mehsud, Yahya Mehsud, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen.

Police and intelligence officials said on Sunday that the gunmen had dumped the body of the younger Mehsud near a canal in the north-western district of Bannu.

Yahya Mehsud was not a member of his brother’s militant group, although some of the elder Mehsud’s supporters had attended his funeral earlier on Sunday.

”Some foreigners were staying with tribesmen Eda Khan and Dawar Khan after attending the funeral of Baitullah Mehsud’s brother,” said the official, referring to the owners of the two houses struck in the attack.

”As soon as the funeral was over, drones started dlying over the area,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

The official said he did not know how many foreigners had been killed nor did he have information about their nationalities. – Reuters