Officials: Alleged U.S. missiles kill 12 in Pakistan
Associated Press Writers
MIR ALI, Pakistan – Suspected U.S. missiles killed 12 people Saturday in a Pakistani tribal region filled with Islamist insurgents bent on pushing Western troops out of neighboring Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.
Elsewhere in the country, gunmen targeted non-ethnic Baluchis traveling on a bus and painting a house in two attacks in southwestern Baluchistan province Saturday, killing 16 people and wounding eight.
The airstrike in Issori village of North Waziristan was the first such attack since intense floods hit Pakistan in late July. The U.S. has tried to improve its public image in Pakistan by sending flood aid, but the missile strike showed Washington was not willing to stop using a tactic that has fed its unpopularity here.
The two intelligence officials who confirmed the strike spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. They said at least two of those killed in the house hit by missiles were suspected militants, but they did not know the identities of the others.
Raza Ullah, a resident of the village, transported two men wounded in the attack to a nearby hospital on his motorbike. In a brief, rushed encounter with an Associated Press reporter, Ullah said two or three U.S. drones were seen hovering above the targeted house before the missiles rained down.
The U.S. rarely discusses the covert, CIA-run missile campaign, but officials have said in the past it has proven a valuable tool in the battle against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters sheltering in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
North Waziristan has been the almost exclusive target in the missile campaign in recent months. It is home to several militant groups, such as the Haqqani network, whose primary focus is the war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan official decries the attacks, but is believed to secretly aid in at least some of the airstrikes. The missile attacks, however, have deepened widespread anti-American sentiment in the country.
As Pakistan struggles to recover from the worst flooding in its history, the U.S. has donated more than $70 million in aid and sent helicopters and Marines to help in the relief work. The goal, in part, is to improve America’s image here, and some analysts have suggested that ongoing missile strikes could negate that effort.
The Baluchistan attacks are sure to add to ethnic tensions there, where a nationalist movement led by armed ethnic Baluch groups has long sought greater provincial autonomy from the central government. They may have been inspired by Pakistan’s marking Saturday of its creation and independence from Britain in 1947.
In the first attack, gunmen stopped the bus in Aab-e-Ghum, a town 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Quetta, the provincial capital. It carried Baluch and non-Baluch passengers, but the attackers identified those from the eastern Punjab province, forced them off the bus, and shot them dead, police official Ismail Kurd said.
The second attack occurred in Quetta, when gunmen burst into a home and killed six Punjabi laborers who were painting it. The gunmen also wounded three other laborers, senior police official Hamid Shakeel said.
Police would not speculate on who was behind the attacks or whether they were linked. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and it was unclear exactly how many gunmen were involved.
Baluchistan is a rugged region with a lengthy and porous border with Afghanistan and Iran. It is Pakistan’s largest province, covering 44 percent of the country. It is also the most sparsely populated, with some 6.5 million people, about half of whom are believed to be of Baluch origin.
A long-running insurgency by Baluchis feeds off resentment against the central government, which they say exploits the resource-rich region but leaves them to wallow in poverty.
There is particular tension between Baluchistan and Punjab, which is the most populous and powerful province in Pakistan. But the Baluchis also have had tensions with other ethnic groups inside the southwest province, such as the Pashtun and the Hazara.