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Saturday, February 14, 2009

'US drone' in fatal Pakistan raid

At least 27 people have been killed in a missile attack by an unmanned US drone in a tribal district of Pakistan, Pakistani officials have told Al Jazeera.

The raid destroyed a house in the northwestern town of Ladha, a base for Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban leader accused of plotting the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan, an official said.

"Around 50 to 60 mujahidin [fighters] have been living [at the site of the attack] for about a week. All of them were Uzbeks," a Taliban official said.

Pakistan intelligence agents are investigating the attack on the house in the South Waziristan region on Saturday.

Taliban fighters sealed off the site of the attack, preventing people from getting access, residents said.

Pakistan angered

The US has launched more than 30 missile attacks on Pakistani soil in recent months, ostensibly against al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked fighters.

More than 220 people were killed in the raids, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents.

Pakistan has been angered by the attacks, saying that innocent civilians have been killed and that Pakistani sovereignty has been infringed.

Maleeha Lohdi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, said that Pakistanis want the government to take a "robust position" to discourage Washington from launching the attacks which are destabilising the border region.

"I think that one of the biggest challenges that the Pakistani government faces, in the face of increasing drone predator strikes on Pakistani territory, is how to square the circle of what the US wants from Pakistan and what the people of Pakistan themselves want," she told Al Jazeera.

"I think it is very important for the new government ... to align itself with the people."

Tribal regions

Khalid Rahman, an analyst at the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad, said that neither the Taliban nor the Pakistani government were winning in Pakistan's tribal regions.

"The government is increasing its attacks on the Taliban but it has not been successful in controlling what is happening in the tribal regions," he told Al Jazeera.

"The Pakistani government is working under American pressure - that pressure is not in the Pakistani interest [which is] to go towards dialogue or a comprehensive package with those who are making trouble in the [tribal regions]."

A large number of Taliban fighters based in Pakistan's tribal region are thought to be those who fled Afghanistan during the US-led invasion in late 2001.

Many civilians living in Pakistan's tribal belt believe that the country's current problems with armed groups stem from Afghanistan, Rahman said.

"To treat the situation in Pakistan in isolation will not really solve the problems. Stability in Afghanistan would certainly help the situation in Pakistan," he said.

Barack Obama, the US president, said this week that he has no doubt that Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked fighters are based in Pakistan's tribal region and the US wants the support of Islamabad in tackling the armed groups.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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