- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan urged President Obama to halt U.S. missile strikes on al Qaeda strongholds near the Afghan border, saying Saturday that civilians had been killed in Friday’s attacks - the first since Mr. Obama’s inauguration.

Pakistani security officials said eight suspected foreign militants, including an Egyptian al Qaeda operative, were among 22 people killed in Friday’s twin strikes in the Waziristan region.

But the Foreign Ministry said the attacks by unmanned aircraft also killed an unspecified number of civilians and it had informed U.S. officials of its “great concern.”

“With the advent of the new U.S. administration, it is Pakistan’s sincere hope that the United States will review its policy and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach toward dealing with the issue of terrorism and extremism,” a ministry statement said.

“We maintain that these attacks are counterproductive and should be discontinued,” it said.

Pakistani leaders complain that stepped-up missile strikes — there have been more than 30 since August — fan anti-American sentiment and undermine the government’s efforts to counter Islamist militants.

But their protests have had few practical consequences, fueling speculation that Islamabad’s cash-strapped, pro-U.S. government has given tacit approval in return for political and financial support from Washington.

Mr. Obama has not commented on the missile-strike policy.

However, he has made the war in Afghanistan and the intertwined al Qaeda fight in Pakistan an immediate foreign-policy priority. Few observers expect him to ditch a tactic that U.S. officials say has killed a string of militant leaders behind the insurgency in Afghanistan - and who were perhaps plotting terrorist attacks in the West.

Three intelligence officials told the Associated Press that funerals were held Saturday for nine Pakistanis killed Friday in Zharki, a village in the North Waziristan region.

The officials, citing reports from field agents and residents, said Taliban fighters had earlier removed the bodies of five suspected foreign militants who also died in the first missile strike Friday. Initial reports put the death toll from that attack at 10.

A senior security official in the capital, Islamabad, identified one of the slain men as a suspected al Qaeda operative called Mustafa al-Misri. He said it was unclear whether the man was a significant figure.

The second strike hit a house in the South Waziristan region. Residents and security officials say eight people died in the village of Gangi Khel.

The United States does not directly acknowledge firing the missiles, which are believed to be mostly fired from drones operated by the CIA and launched from neighboring Afghanistan.

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