Saturday, February 14, 2009

Suspected US Missile Strike Kills 24 in Pakistan

Via Yahoo! News (AP) -

Dozens of followers of Pakistan's top Taliban commander were in a compound when a suspected U.S. missile attack hit Saturday, killing 27 militants in an al-Qaida stronghold near the Afghan border, officials said.

The strike appeared to be the deadliest yet by the American drone aircraft that prowl the frontier, and defied Pakistani warnings that the tactic is fueling extremism in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.

In an interview unrelated to the attack, President Asif Ali Zardari said the Taliban had expanded their presence to a "huge amount" of Pakistan and were even eyeing a takeover of the state.

"We're fighting for the survival of Pakistan. We're not fighting for the survival of anybody else," Zardari said, according to a transcript of his remarks that CBS television said it would air Sunday.


After Saturday's strike, Taliban fighters surrounded the flattened compound in the village of Shrawangai Nazarkhel and carried away the dead and wounded in several vehicles. The village is in South Waziristan, part of the tribally governed area along the Afghan frontier considered the likely redoubt of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

The victims included about 15 ethnic Uzbek militants and several Afghans, said Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The seniority of the militants was unclear.

Two of the officials said dozens of followers of Pakistan's top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, were staying in the housing compound when it was hit. There was no indication that Mehsud was present.

Pakistan's former government and the CIA have named Mehsud as the prime suspect behind the December 2007 killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Pakistani officials accuse him of harboring foreign fighters, including Central Asians linked to al-Qaida, and of training suicide bombers.

The accounts of Saturday's strike could not be verified independently. The tribally governed region is unsafe for reporters. The U.S. Embassy had no comment, while Pakistan's army spokesman was unavailable.

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