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2 U.S. missile attacks kill 6 near Afghan border
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Two U.S. missile strikes killed six alleged Afghan Taliban fighters in a Pakistani tribal region Wednesday, intelligence officials said, just days after Pakistani authorities asked for greater limits on such attacks.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official criticized the timing of the strikes, which were the first since a mid-March attack took out what the Pakistanis said were dozens of peaceful tribesmen. A U.S. official at the time denied innocent people had been targeted.
The United States relies heavily on the covert, CIA-run missile program to kill al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan‘s northwest, and with a few exceptions it keeps up a steady pace of strikes even when relations with Pakistan are tense.
For its part, Pakistan publicly denounces the strikes but secretly has helped the program.
In a meeting Monday with CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, however, Pakistan‘s spy chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, requested advance notice of the missile strikes and fewer strikes overall, according to U.S. officials.
The meeting came amid lingering tensions over the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by an American who turned out to be a CIA contractor.
The U.S. spy agency is considering the request for more information but sees other demands as nonstarters, as American officials believe there are factions in the Pakistani intelligence supporting the Taliban and other such groups fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Wednesday’s strikes involved seven missiles striking a vehicle and a motorcycle in the forested Bhangar area of South Waziristan, said the two Pakistani officials, who are based in the northwest and receive information from field agents and informants.
They said the dead were Afghan Taliban fighters who had snuck across the border. But the information is nearly impossible to verify independently — the area is remote and dangerous, and access legally is restricted.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official criticized the strike, saying the timing was inappropriate, coming so soon after the meeting in Washington. Like the other intelligence officials, he spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The United States rarely discusses the missile program publicly, but American officials in the past have described it as very successful in taking out top militants. Pakistani citizens hold a low opinion of the program, however, alleging that numerous civilians end up killed or maimed by the attacks.
Most of the strikes land in North Waziristan, where several militant groups battling Western forces in Afghanistan are based.
On March 17, a drone strike killed roughly three dozen people in the North Waziristan tribal area. Pakistani intelligence officials initially described the dead as militants but later said at least 24 civilians were from tribes asking the Taliban to mediate a dispute.
Pakistan‘s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued a rare public statement in which he condemned the attack, and U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned in protest.
Earlier this week, Mr. Munter gave a speech in which he urged the two countries to move beyond the recent tensions.
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