- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ISLAMABAD | What were likely U.S. missiles and Pakistani fighter jets attacked followers of a notorious militant leader close to the Afghan border on Tuesday, but the Pakistani army complained that the American strikes were hurting its campaign against the country’s public enemy No. 1.

Between 12 and 14 militants were killed when two missiles hit a training camp run by Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan tribal region, intelligence officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists. The missiles were thought to be fired by American drones.

Five foreigners were among the dead, but their nationalities were not known, the officials said. Top Arab leaders of the al Qaeda terror network, as well as scores of militants from nearby countries such as Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, are thought to be hiding in the region.

Mehsud was not among the victims of the strike, the fourth in two weeks targeting him or his followers.

Mehsud, an al Qaeda ally, is accused of orchestrating a campaign of bombings in Pakistan, including the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The United States has announced a reward of $5 million for information leading to his arrest or location, while the Pakistani government last month posted a reward of $615,000 for him, according to a Reuters news agency report.

While Pakistan battles the Taliban on its side of the Afghan border, thousands of U.S. Marines have launched an offensive against the Afghan Taliban in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

Hours after Tuesday’s strikes, Pakistani fighter jets bombed militants’ positions about 25 miles away, the army said. Casualties in those strikes were unknown.

The army insisted that it was not coordinating the missile strikes with Washington and reiterated its opposition to them despite the damage they were inflicting on Mehsud’s followers.

“It hurts the campaign rather than helps,” said Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen Athar Abbas, arguing that the air strikes alienate local tribes whose support the military needs to defeat Mehsud.

Washington does not directly acknowledge responsibility for launching the missiles, which have killed civilians as well as militants and contributed to anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan.

Any admission that Islamabad works with the United States in attacks on its citizens likely would be damaging for the shaky civilian government. Most analysts, however, think the country’s civilian and military leaders secretly endorse the strikes and likely provide the United States with intelligence on possible targets.

Three months ago, the Pakistan army launched an offensive in the Swat Valley, earning praise in the West.

On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for long-term investment to allow 1.9 million Pakistanis displaced from Swat to return home after the offensive against the Taliban, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

“In addition to humanitarian support, there needs to be long-term investment so you can go back to your communities and live there in security,” Mr. Miliband told displaced families at the Yar Hussein camp in northwestern Pakistan.

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