Missile Attack Kills 24 in Pakistan Tribal Area

Two separate volleys of American missiles slammed into a Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan close to the Afghan border Tuesday, killing at least 24 alleged insurgents in the latest such strikes since a failed car bombing in New York, officials said.

At least six unmanned drone aircraft, believed to be operated by the CIA, were in the air when the missile strikes took place early Tuesday.

The first strike in North Waziristan involved up to 11 missiles – an unusually intense bombardment. Two hit a vehicle, killing four, while nine landed on a compound located in a ravine. They struck cars, homes and tents across a wide area in the Doga area, where insurgents have hideouts and training facilities, killing 14 alleged militants, two intelligence officials said.

Residents said drones had been hovering over the area overnight and were still in the air on Tuesday. They said the militants had cordoned off the area and moved the injured to an unknown location.

Within 10 to 15 minutes later, another pair of missiles hit a compound in the Gorwek area of North Waziristan killing another 10 suspected insurgents, including the brother of a reputed Taliban commander, Maulvi Kalam.

The identities of the rest of the people killed in the attacks were not immediately known. However, the second attack was in an area where members of an Afghan Taliban faction led by a commander known as Gul Bahadur operate. Officials and witnesses say those killed and insurgents affiliated to Gul Bahadur.

Some days ago, a drone strike on a compound in the same area killed five people and injured four.Nearly 70 drone strikes have killed more than 200 people in Waziristan since the start of 2010, officials say. Most of these strikes have been in the Dattakhel area. In recent months, it has become a new haven for militants who fled a Pakistani army offensive in their previous stronghold, neighbouring South Waziristan.

The two strikes Tuesday took to four the number of such attacks since Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad was arrested after allegedly abandoning a bomb-laden SUV in Times Square. He has reportedly told investigators that he received training in Waziristan and U.S. officials have said evidence showed the Pakistani Taliban played a role in the plot. U.S. claims that the Pakistani Taliban were behind the May 1 failed bombing attempt. They have added pressure on Pakistan’s government to launch an army attack on the militant sanctuaries of North Waziristan, but few expect its stretched army to rush into any operation there.

Pakistan officially protests the missile strikes on its territory as violations of its sovereignty, but it is believed to aid at least some of them. Observers, though, say the authorities privately condone the strikes. They have killed hundreds of people, most of them identified by Pakistani officials as alleged insurgents. Transparent investigations into allegations of civilian casualties sustained in the attacks are not carried out.

The U.S. rarely discusses the strikes fired from unmanned drones, which are part of a covert CIA program, much less who they are targeting and on what grounds. Critics say the attacks may violate international law and amount to extrajudicial killings.

New calls from Washington could backfire because they would create the impression the force was acting on the orders of America – a perception that would undercut the public support needed for such an operation to be successful. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Tuesday relations between the two countries remained sound following the Times Square incident. “There’s nothing to worry (about), our relationship is smooth and it is moving toward a partnership,” he said. (The Associated Press)

The Pakistani Taliban, which have previously not conducted attacks on U.S. soil, have been the target of several Pakistani army offensives over the last two years in addition to scores of American missile strikes. They are allied to al-Qaeda, which has also found sanctuary in the northwest, and the Afghan Taliban just across the border.

The army has not moved into North Waziristan in part because powerful insurgent commanders there have generally not attacked targets in Pakistan. In recent months, however, fleeing fighters and commanders from the Pakistani Taliban – which have launched scores of bloody suicide attacks around the country since 2007 – have moved there.

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