Suspected US missile strikes in Pakistan

January 23, 2009 8:58:53 AM PST
Two suspected U.S missile attacks killed 14 people Friday in Pakistan just east of the Afghan border, security officials said, the first such strikes since the inauguration of President Barack Obama. At least five victims were identified as foreign militants, an intelligence officer said.

The strikes in two districts of the lawless region where al-Qaida militants are known to hide out are the latest in a barrage of more than 30 since the middle of last year.

Pakistan's pro-U.S. leaders had expressed hope Obama would halt the attacks, which have reportedly killed several top al-Qaida operatives but triggered anger at the government by nationalist and Muslim critics.

Islamabad routinely protests the strikes in the northwest as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but most observers speculate that it has an unwritten agreement allowing them to take place, noting it would be highly damaging to be seen as colluding with Washington in attacks on its people.

The missiles are normally fired from spy planes believed to be launched from across the border in Afghanistan.

The first attack Friday took place in the village of Zharki in North Waziristan, when a single drone fired three missiles in the space of 10 minutes, the security officials said.

The missiles destroyed two buildings, killing 10 people, at least five of whom were foreign militants, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Hours later, a second missile struck a house in South Waziristan, killing four people, they said, giving no more details. The United States rarely acknowledges firing the missiles, but there is little doubt it is responsible.

Washington is pressing Pakistan to crackdown on militants in the border, which it blames for rising attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan as well as violence within Pakistan.

Earlier Friday, a suicide attack and a roadside bomb killed two soldiers and three civilians in the Swat Valley, a one-time tourist destination close to the border region, officials said.

Pakistan has launched military offensives in parts of the northwest, but insurgents are making inroads Swat, blowing up schools, killing police and soldiers and calling for the imposition of a hard-line interpretation of Islamic law.

Militancy in Swat is seen as especially dangerous for Pakistan because the valley lies away from the areas where al-Qaida and the Taliban have traditionally operated.

In an indication of the difficulties facing the government, more than 1,000 hard-liners demonstrated in the capital, saying there would only be peace in Swat and other frontier regions if the government severs its ties with the United States.

"The lawlessness cannot end until the end of the pro-America policy," one speaker told the crowd gathered close to the Parliament building in Islamabad.

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Associated Press Writer Ishtiaq Mahsud contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan.

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