x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US missile strike in Pakistan

A suspected US missile strike hit a village in Pakistan, killing at least six alleged militants.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN // A suspected US missile strike hit a village well inside Pakistani territory today, killing at least six alleged militants in an attack that could raise tensions between the anti-terror allies, officials said. The past three months have seen a surge of missile strikes but today's was the first to target a district outside Pakistan's lawless tribal regions. It struck a house in Bannu district, which is a part of north-west Pakistan where al Qa'eda and Taliban have found refuge but does not border Afghanistan.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said their agents reported foreigners from Central Asia were among the dead. The US, which says militants use pockets of north-west Pakistan to plan attacks on foreign troops in Afghanistan, is blamed in about 20 cross-border missile strikes since mid-August. The missiles are believed fired from unmanned planes launched in Afghanistan, where about 32,000 US troops are fighting the Taliban and other militants. Pakistan see the strikes as violations of its sovereignty and international law, but the attacks continue, leading analysts to speculate the two nations have a secret deal. But until today, all the attacks since August were in villages in north and south Waziristan, two tribal regions where the government has limited presence and legal power, making notions of its sovereignty questionable.

Bannu, however, is considered a "settled area", which means it falls under the control of the regional government. As such, today's attack could provoke more anger among Pakistan's leaders. The Bannu region begins roughly 30 kilometres from the frontier. Pakistan has insisted it does not get warning of such attacks, and has demanded the US share intelligence and let Pakistan go after targets on its own. The US rarely confirms or denies the strikes. Even as the strikes have picked up, US officers in Afghanistan have stressed improved day-to-day Pakistani co-operation in squeezing militants nested along both sides of the lengthy, porous border. US military officials said troops in Afghanistan co-ordinated with Pakistan on Sunday in shelling insurgents inside Pakistan who were launching rockets at the foreign troops. Pakistan's official statement on the matter referred only to militant activity in Afghanistan.

In the past month, Nato and Pakistan have also co-operated in so-called Operation Lion Heart - a series of complementary operations that involve Pakistani army and paramilitary troops, and Nato on the Afghan side, said Col John Spiszer, US commander in north-east Afghanistan. "What we have done is worked very hard to refocus our ... intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance assets to do everything we can to identify transiting across the border," he told a Pentagon news conference in Washington via teleconference from Afghanistan yesterday. Commanders hope pressure on both sides of the border will eventually mean militants will be "running out of options on places to go," Col Spiszer said.

US officials have also praised Pakistani military offensives against militants in its border region, including an operation in the Bajur tribal area that the army says has killed more than 1,600 alleged insurgents. Besides questions of sovereignty, Pakistani officials say the US missile strikes are counterproductive because they often kill civilians and deepen anti-American and anti-government sentiment along the border. But US Gen David Petraeus has defended them, saying at least three top extremist leaders, whom he did not identify, have been killed in recent months in the attacks.

Elsewhere today, gunmen shot and killed a retired army major general who had led several military operations against insurgents in the tribal regions. The attack occurred on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Emir Faisal Alvi was in his vehicle when the gunmen opened fire, killing him and his driver before fleeing, police official Mohammed Tariq said. * AP