- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

ISLAMABAD (AP) - A suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at an alleged militant hide-out Saturday in northwestern Pakistan, killing 13 people in the latest strike aimed at extremists who pose a threat to international troops in Afghanistan, intelligence officials and residents said.

The U.S. is suspected of carrying out more than three dozen such strikes over the past year in Pakistan near the Afghan border, where militants often launch attacks against U.S. and NATO troops. The drone attacks have caused tension with the Pakistani government, which frequently complains about the U.S. carrying out strikes on its territory.

The home targeted just after dawn Saturday was located in North Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s tribal regions that is believed to be an important base for al-Qaida and Taliban militants, said the intelligence officials.

The dead and injured included local and foreign militants, but women and children were also killed in the attack, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

A local tribal elder, Dilawar Khan, confirmed that 13 people were killed in the strike, saying the owner’s family was among the dead. He said he didn’t know the identities of the other people killed in the attack or whether there were militants staying at the home, which was located in Data Khel village very close to the Afghan border.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Pakistan has criticized the drone strikes, saying they are a violation of the country’s sovereignty and kill innocent civilians. The government has said such deaths generate sympathy for the militants. But the U.S. believes the attacks are an effective tool to combat militants in the region.

President Barack Obama has said he will step up the pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants in its territory by making aid to the country conditional on the government’s anti-terrorism efforts. Pakistan has said it is committed to the fight, but many Western officials suspect the country’s military intelligence agency of maintaining links with militant groups.

Obama said last month the U.S. would insist that action be taken “one way or another” when the country has intelligence about high-level terrorist targets in Pakistan, a likely reference to the drone strikes.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari defended his country’s commitment to fighting Islamic militants in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, an influential former prime minister who was hanged by a military regime on charges widely seen as politically motivated.

“People around the world say that our country will disintegrate. Some say that fundamentalists will rule the country,” Zardari told thousands of people who assembled early Saturday morning at the slain politician’s tomb in southern Sindh province.

“But we will not let it happen as long as we are alive,” said Zardari.

Bhutto was the father of Zardari’s late wife Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister who was assassinated by militants at the end of 2007, not long after returning to the country from exile to run in national elections. Pakistan and the U.S. have blamed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud for Benazir Bhutto’s death and scores of other attacks in Pakistan.

Earlier this week, Mehsud claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a police academy in the eastern city of Lahore that left at least 12 people dead, including seven policeman. He warned that his group would carry out more attacks in the country unless the U.S. stopped drone attacks against militants on the Afghan border.

The militant leader also threatened to attack the White House, although the FBI said he had made similar threats previously and there was no indication of anything imminent. The U.S. has offered a reward of up to $5 million for Mehsud.

Soon after Mehsud made his threat, a suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles Wednesday at the alleged hide-out of one of his commanders, killing 14 people, intelligence and local officials said.


Associated Press writers Ghulam Rasool in Mir Ali, Husnain Khan in Parachinar and Ashraf Khan in Garhi Khuda Bux contributed to this report.

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